Criminal background and job performance are related? Three authors attempted to examine the issue. In their Abstract the authors state “for Job applicants with criminal records are much less likely than others to obtain legitimate employment.” Recent efforts to address this problem include campaigns to persuade employers to hire ex-offenders voluntarily and legislation such as Ban the Box laws. The success of any remedial strategy depends on whether employer concerns are founded on an accurate view of how ex-offenders behave on the job if hired. Little empirical evidence now exists to answer this question. This paper attempts to fill this gap by examining firm-level hiring practices and worker-level performance outcomes. Our data indicate that individuals with criminal records have a much longer tenure and are less likely to quit their jobs voluntarily than other workers. Some results, however, differ by job: customer service employees with a criminal record may be no more likely than others to leave for reasons of misconduct, but sales employees are. By examining psychometric data, we find evidence that bad outcomes for sales people with records may be driven by job rather than employee characteristics. We find some evidence that psychometric testing might provide a substitute for the use of criminal records, but that it would not in our own sample.”
Their paper is located here.
In their introduction the authors state “In an industry where turnover is a major labor cost determinant, we find that workers with criminal records have a longer tenure and are less likely to quit their jobs voluntarily than other workers. This finding suggests that ex-offenders represent an untapped productivity pool.”
We agree that ex-offenders represent an untapped productivity pool. However, the paper does not identify the type of offense someone has in their background and its relation to the essential job functions. We believe this is important because employers can certainly exclude individuals with a recent history of unacceptable behavior if that unacceptable behavior is related to the essential functions of the job. See highlights of pdf article. At the risk of sounding a bit sarcastic, I am sure none of the authors would want an ex sex-offender watching their children in day care.
They also state in the introduction that “Consistent with the literature that focuses on the hiring process, we find that applicants with criminal records are penalized at the hiring stage conditional on observable characteristics. Furthermore, we find that criminal history seems to be associated with better performance overall in customer service positions, and is ambiguous in sales positions.”
The authors then point to Ban the Box movements across the country as a method of combating assumptions about someone with criminal convictions in their background. In a previous blog post, we have highlighted the fact that Ban the Box does more harm than good to individuals with a criminal conviction. Rather, it works best when employers follow EEOC guidelines in making decisions about an individual’s unacceptable past behavior and its relation to the essential functions of the job.
Ironically, the authors state the following in their conclusion at the end of their paper “Using a unique source of data, we find that employees with a criminal record have a much longer tenure and are less likely to quit their jobs voluntarily than other workers. We further find that in certain jobs, employees with a criminal record are no more likely than those without a record to leave their job involuntarily or for reasons of misconduct. These workers with a criminal background appear to be no worse than, and possibly even better than, workers without such a background. In our data, this low-risk job is customer service. In other jobs, however, employees with a criminal record do appear more likely to leave for reasons of misconduct. In our data, the high-risk job is sales, and we conjecture that whatever factors create the overall high misconduct rate observed in sales jobs may have an even greater effect on employees with criminal records.