Ex-offenders less likely to quit their jobs, no more likely to be fired than other employees
Although a new study by Northwestern University researchers shows ex-offenders can make good hires, obstacles such as negligent-hiring liability hinder employers willing to give ex-offenders a chance.
A new study by researchers at Northwestern University should put many employers’ minds at ease about hiring ex-offenders. The study found employees with criminal records were less likely to quit a job, and in general, were no more likely to be fired than employees without records. This is good news, because for ex-offenders – and community members and taxpayers – it is crucial that those leaving prison be able to obtain employment. While the study should reassure employers willing to give ex-offenders a chance, lawmakers should see it as a call to make employment more feasible by reforming Illinois’ negligent-hiring laws.
Study shows less turnover among ex-offenders
The study’s authors examined employment records for employees in low-skill, white-collar jobs such as customer service and sales representatives, according to a report in the Chicago Reader. The researchers determined that ex-offenders were significantly less likely to quit their jobs compared with employees without criminal records. The study points out that for the employers studied, each new hire costs approximately $4,000, so the lower turnover rate among ex-offenders has the potential to save costs for employers.
The study also found that ex-offenders in general were not more likely to be fired than employees without criminal histories, and that only ex-offenders in sales positions were likelier to be terminated for misconduct.
Negligent-hiring lawsuits a concern for employers that hire ex-offenders and an obstacle for ex-offenders seeking jobs
Although the Northwestern University study might reassure employers about job applicants with criminal records, employers may still be wary of lawsuits in the event an ex-offender engages in wrongful conduct after he or she is hired. Some 52 percent of employers conduct criminal background searches for this reason, according to survey data from the Society for Human Resource Management.
Illinois should follow the lead of other states that make it more feasible for businesses to hire ex-offenders by providing hiring-liability protections. Colorado’s law, for example, limits the use of an employee’s criminal record in lawsuits if an arrest didn’t result in a conviction, if the record was sealed or the person received a pardon, and, most importantly, if the conviction was unrelated to the facts of the case. Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Ohio also provide qualified immunity from lawsuits when a criminal record is the only evidence of negligence.
Illinois does provide some negligent-hiring liability protection – but only for employers that hire former offenders who have obtained certificates of relief from disabilities. The certificates serve as evidence of rehabilitation: They make ex-offenders eligible for certain business and professional licenses and provide protection from lawsuits to employers that hire the ex-offenders. But not all former offenders can afford to pay a lawyer to handle the application process for the certificate or a delayed job search while waiting for a court to issue the certificate.
Expanded protection from negligent-hiring liability could facilitate ex-offender employment without imposing onerous burdens on employers
The Illinois General Assembly should pass legislation to restrict hiring liability to cases in which an employer knew about the employee’s criminal record (or was grossly negligent in not knowing), and the employee’s criminal conviction directly related both to the nature of the employee’s work and the conduct that gave rise to the alleged injury on which the lawsuit is based.
Reforming negligent-hiring laws would remove an obstacle to employment for those who need a second chance. Unlike Illinois’ “ban the box” law, which prohibits employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history until an interview has been offered or a conditional offer extended, expanding hiring-liability protections would not impose burdensome and costly compliance obligations on employers. Nor would it have the unintended consequences for applicants – ex-offender and non-ex-offender alike – of ban-the-box laws, which can result in employers using proxies for criminal history such as low education levels, or even, disturbingly, race, to exclude applicants from jobs.
For ex-offenders, a good job means a second chance – and a higher likelihood of not returning to prison
For an ex-offender, the ability to get a job after leaving prison can mean the difference between a successful transition to self-sufficiency with a productive life in his or her community and lapsing into crime. A Safer Foundation study showed that ex-offenders who underwent training and kept a job for 30 days had a three-year recidivism rate of 16 percent, compared with Illinois’ general recidivism rate of 48 percent.
And each ex-offender who finds employment and stays out of prison reduces the burden on taxpayers of police, incarceration and judicial costs. In Illinois those costs add up: Taxpayers pay over $40,000 every time an ex-offender returns to prison, to say nothing of the burdens borne by crime victims or the lost economic productivity that results. Given that nearly half of those released from Illinois prisons return within three years, Illinois taxpayers will foot the bill for $5.7 billion in recidivism costs over the next five years if the recidivism rate holds steady.
Ex-offenders need jobs, and as the new study shows, they can be good hires. Illinois needs to reform its hiring-liability laws to remove obstacles for former offenders trying to turn around their lives.