On June 2, 2018, Washington became the 11th state to adopt the Fair Chance Act (HB 1298), extending “ban the box” job-seeker protections to cover the state’s public and private employers. The bill delays criminal background checks until an applicant meets the basic criteria for the job and prohibits employers from automatically or categorically excluding individuals with a criminal record from consideration before determining they are otherwise qualified for the position.
There is a clear movement in the region toward “Fair Chance Policies,” with neighboring states Oregon and California passing similar legislation in 2016 and 2018, respectively, and growing support in Montana and Idaho.
At the same time, with low unemployment rates (5.4 percent in Spokane County) and job creation on the rise, businesses are struggling to fill open positions. A new report from Washington State University, Business in the Northwest 2018: Insights from the Carson College of Business, reveals 72 percent of Northwest business leaders feel their company is in a position to create more jobs, but 60 percent are struggling to find qualified undergraduates from area universities when hiring. Industries with hard-to-fill positions, such as construction, retail and shipping/logistics, get hit the hardest.
Unlike some states, Washington does not require employers to postpone background checks until conditional job offers are made – so there is room for this legislation to influence hiring decisions. Importantly, it could open up a creative and responsible way to meet employer hiring needs in this tight labor market while also taking a step toward reducing crime in our communities.
Perhaps it is time for Spokane-area employers to consider screening in qualified individuals with criminal records as a potential source of employees for these hard-to-fill positions.
There are both benefits and challenges, but partnering with re-employment agencies like Pioneer Human Services and Fulcrum Offender & Re-Education Program in Washington can help address risks or concerns and put employers in a better place to make a good hire. Some organizations also see hiring second-chance citizens as a form of corporate social responsibility and a way to contribute to their local community. They are right. Numerous studies show that stable employment for second-chance citizens reduces the likelihood they will commit additional crimes, which ultimately contributes to safer and stronger communities.
With an open mind and some creativity, hiring second-chance citizens could represent a unique business and social opportunity. From meeting the growing demand for hard-to-fill positions, to giving these individuals a chance to rebuild their lives and positively contribute to their communities, screening in this often-overlooked source of candidates is not only good for business, it’s good for society and for Washington.
Jerry Goodstein, Ph.D., is a professor at Washington State University’s Carson College of Business, teaching strategic management, organizational design, leadership and business ethics. Goodstein’s research interests have focused on organizational governance and strategic choices, and more recently, he has pursued research on a series of topics related to business ethics, including the practice of hiring second-chance citizens.