Sooner or later, you'll have an applicant who answers "yes" to the question "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" Should you reject that candidate? Not necessarily, says Paul Salvatore, an employment law attorney and partner with New York City law firm Proskauer Rose.
To develop a policy on hiring convicted criminals, Salvatore advises beginning with a clear understanding of the applicable legal requirements. Many states have laws prohibiting employers from rejecting an applicant strictly on the grounds of a past conviction. However, a criminal conviction may make an applicant ineligible for a job that requires bonding or special licensing.
"Once you understand the legal requirements that apply to your business, you can assess whether the applicant is the right person for the job," says Salvatore. This means considering the conviction in the overall context of the applicant's background, skills and abilities, and your staffing needs. For example, you'd probably view a relatively recent armed robbery conviction somewhat differently than a 20-year-old conviction for marijuana possession.
Salvatore says one of the most common convictions employers encounter on applications is driving while intoxicated. In that case, some issues you'll want to keep in mind are whether the person will be driving a company vehicle or driving his or her own car on company business, and if he or she is insurable.
Unless you have a legal reason for doing so, a blanket policy of excluding applicants with criminal records could expose you to liability. It's always a good idea to be able to demonstrate a legitimate reason for your hiring choices.