Last week, I answered my phone and heard the voice of one of our recent graduates at Bud's Warehouse. I could immediately tell something was not right.
His new employer was having second thoughts about the wisdom of recently hiring him. It wasn't because of performance. My friend assured me that he had been over-performing in every aspect of his new job. And it wasn't the economy. This employer was experiencing success even when other firms were laying off.
My friend feared his employer’s new found concern about his past felony conviction. Like any good businessperson, the owner was concerned about his insurance coverage. It had dawned on him that an employee with a past felony conviction might not be covered. Over the years, I've found this to be a valid concern but one that is often exaggerated beyond its true reality.
Unfortunately, this issue, whether it is true or not, has become the biggest obstacle to employing ex-offenders. A couple of months ago, I shared this view at a city brainstorming session on how to increase employment opportunities for the homeless. The group seemed unaware that this issue was important to employers. Many thought that the federal government’s felony bonding program settled the matter. But bonding against theft is a different issue than potential liability due to employment hiring practices.
In my experience, most business insurance policies don’t prohibit the hiring of individuals with felony convictions. It’s just a mistaken understanding by both the employer and, sometimes, the insurance agent. If the owner takes time to read the small print of his or her policy, the answer is often quickly found.
The bigger issue is practicing due diligence in the hiring and the management of staff. This human resource issue is true whether you are working with ex-offenders or not. And I tend to believe that the real employee an owner needs to worry about is not the ex-offender, but the individual without a record who has not yet been caught. In regards to ex-offenders, working with a well-respected job training program can help achieve both of those aims and reduce potential liability.
In my friend’s case, I called his employer and urged him to read his liability policy and to call his insurance agent. I encouraged him that our past program participant was a fantastic individual who had made a dumb mistake when he was younger. He was now committed to God and to making his life right. I got off the phone and prayed that it would all work out.
As I’ve blogged in the past, if society wants to save money by decreasing prison recidivism rates, employment is the key issue. And if our community wants employers to take chances on ex-offenders, then the government needs to address the issue of employer insurance liability.