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April 25, 2017

Why health systems are hiring ex-offenders for hard-to-fill jobs

Daily Briefing

Faced with difficulty hiring workers, more hospitals are hiring people with criminal records—most often for positions in food services, housekeeping, and custodial services. Sophie Quinton reports for Stateline.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2012 began pushing employers to consider job candidates with criminal records, arguing that excluding applicants because of their records could violate antidiscrimination laws. Several states and cities now bar employers from inquiring about arrests and convictions until the final stages of the hiring process, according to Quinton.

Further, research suggests that many individuals with criminal records are reliable workers, Quinton reports. For instance, a Northwestern University study of low-skill white collar jobs found that individuals with criminal records were no more likely to get fired—and actually stayed in their jobs longer—than individuals without records. Johns Hopkins, which began hiring ex-offenders in the late 90s, also found that workers with criminal records were more likely than others to stay in their position for more than three years.

According to Quinton, "about one in four U.S. residents has a criminal record," and with workers for certain positions in high demand, health care systems are considering those individuals to fill their openings. As Michele Sedney, senior director for central recruitment services at Johns Hopkins, said, "If we're going to exclude all of them—then how are we ever going to staff the hospital?"

Hiring at Hopkins

The Hopkins health system now waits until after it makes a conditional job offer to run a background check on a candidate. If the check uncovers an issue, a human resources worker who formerly served as a Baltimore police officer reviews the applicant's record for potential concerns. The health system, Quinton reports, most commonly hires individuals with criminal records to serve in hard-to-fill positions, such as night shift janitorial roles.

Emily Brown, a retention specialist at Unity Point Health, said her health system hires individuals with criminal records when the offense is unrelated to the job. For instance, having a drunk driving charge wouldn't disqualify an individual for a job that doesn't require driving.

Some employers are wary

Nonetheless, hiring an ex-offender can still present a risk—particularly in health care, where providers are caring "for people in the most vulnerable moments of their lives," Quinton writes.

She notes that some states, such as Indiana, have passed "laws to keep people with criminal records out of clinical jobs." In those cases, legislators typically cite public safety concerns. For instance, a bill before the Colorado Legislature would require certain health care professionals to complete a background check before receiving a license to practice. Licensing boards also would be able to disqualify applicants who have been convicted of unlawful sexual behavior or diversion of controlled substances.

Quinton writes that employers typically are more comfortable hiring individuals with a criminal background who have been reviewed by a workforce intermediary or a community organization.

A not-for-profit initiative called Turnaround Tuesday fills that need in Baltimore, while a group called the Safer Foundation provides such services in Chicago.

Melvin Wilson, a program director at Turnaround Tuesday, explained that the group is open to anyone who's seeking employment and that about two-thirds participants have a criminal background. Wilson added that the program trains workers for jobs that are open—as opposed to giving them a certificate and leaving them to find a position to match it (Quinton, Stateline, 4/19; Minemyer, FierceHealthcare, 4/21).

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