Job seekers who have been involved with the criminal legal system — or justice-impacted job seekers — can find themselves faced with closed doors and limited options. The decision not to hire people with a criminal record is commonly made by employers supposedly in the name of safety, and out of concerns other employees will object.
But while conventional wisdom suggests that workers are reluctant to work alongside anyone with a criminal record (a descriptor that applies to one-third of Americans), research shows the opposite is true. Indeed recently commissioned Kickstand to poll 1,000 American workers, and we discovered that people are much more interested in giving convicted individuals fair access to the labor pool than in discriminating against them.
Here are the most telling insights from the survey.
Most employees are comfortable working alongside coworkers with a criminal background
A full 92% of workers said they would be comfortable working alongside a coworker who had a nonviolent criminal record with a single, isolated incident. Even if that individual had multiple nonviolent incidents on their record, a majority of workers – 67% – said they would still be comfortable working alongside that person.
Recentness plays a role in exactly how comfortable they feel, however. If a coworker had a nonviolent criminal record dating back 20 years, 50% of workers said they would be very comfortable, while only 5% said they would be very uncomfortable. That calculus changes when the criminal record is just 5 years old, where only 28% said they would be very comfortable – though only 8% said they would be very uncomfortable, a relatively insignificant difference.
A record of a violent incident in a worker’s past makes a difference, but less than you’d think
The workers polled in our survey were not especially concerned about coworkers with a violent incident on their records. Sixty-six percent agreed that they would be comfortable working alongside a coworker with a single, isolated incident on their record, even if it was violent. That’s virtually identical to the proportion of workers who said they would be comfortable working with a coworker with multiple nonviolent offenses on their record (67%).
Even multiple violent incidents in a coworker’s past didn’t dramatically change respondents’ level of concern: 54% said they would still feel comfortable around this co-worker.
In contrast to nonviolent crime, recentness didn’t play a major role in how workers felt about a coworker with a violent criminal record. Whether an incident is from 20 years ago, 5 years ago, or as recent as this year, levels of comfort and discomfort did not significantly change.
Employees want to work for fair-chance employers
The data shows that workers actively want their employers to support justice-impacted job seekers, and 73% say they would prefer to work for a company with fair-chance hiring practices. 73% also said that any questions about criminal records on their company’s employment application should be eliminated.
Workers overwhelmingly disagree that people with a criminal record should be excluded from getting jobs: 72% say that companies that do not offer fair-chance hiring are not truly diverse and inclusive and 91% say that providing fair-chance opportunities is “essential to society.”
The message to employers is clear: Workers value fairness in the employment process for all job seekers, and 96% of workers said they preferred to work for a company that incorporates fair-chance hiring and that the practice was very important or somewhat important in evaluating future job opportunities.
Job seekers are looking for fair-chance work, but employers are lagging behind
Despite workers’ clear support for fair-chance hiring, not enough employers have caught up. In fact, the share of job postings on Indeed that include explicit language about the company's commitment to or practice of hiring job seekers with a criminal record was only 2.3% in July 2022, down from 2.5% in May 2022. It has fallen flat since late 2019. While it’s impossible to know how many employers would hire someone with a criminal record, only a handful of them openly advertise that commitment or practice to potential candidates. Meanwhile, searches for fair-chance work by job-seekers have increased over the years.
Opening the doors to those with a criminal record is key to moving forward—for everyone
Workers and sociologists agree that finding gainful employment for individuals with criminal records is an important public priority—especially given the racial inequities inherent in our criminal legal system. Meaningful work lessens the likelihood of recidivism and breaks the vicious circle between unemployment and criminal activity. Today, while only 6% of men at age 35 are unemployed, roughly 46% of those unemployed men have been convicted of a crime.
Ultimately, employees with a criminal record tend to have a longer tenure and are less likely to quit their jobs voluntarily than other workers. Hiring them is good for the job seeker, good for employers and good for our society overall. Let’s give these workers a fair chance.