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How Would You Feel If Your Co-Worker Had a Violent Criminal Record?

Most say they’re more comfortable with those convicted of nonviolent crimes

Most respondents to a recent survey said they’d feel comfortable working with or buying goods or services from employees who have nonviolent criminal records.

But that sentiment changes drastically if fellow employees have violent criminal records, according to survey results released April 1 by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

One way HR professionals and hiring managers might ease discomfort about working with someone who has a violent criminal record is to understand the nature of the crime, said Ewan Watt, director of communications at the Charles Koch Institute. For instance, getting into a bar fight that resulted in only minor injuries, which could be considered a violent offense, is a lot different from murdering someone.

Each situation should be viewed independently regarding these and potential other factors. There is not a clear-cut answer to whether an organization should hire someone with a criminal background for a position. It depends on a number of factors, including the type of job and the job duties—[whether] public facing, phone operator, machine operator, et cetera—and the industry—some of which have compliance-related issues—the type of crime committed, the length of time since the crime was committed, employment history since the crime was committed, and more.

Someone with a recent violent criminal history may not be considered for a customer-facing retail or restaurant position, but may be considered for remote telework or data-entry work.

Likewise, someone with a violent criminal history committed 20 years ago, but who has had significant employment experience since without incident, may be considered for a job in finance, whereas someone with a financial crime and no violent criminal activity may not.

Working with Colleagues Who Have Criminal Records

The survey of 1,003 people in the United States was conducted March 12-18, both online and by phone. Almost 3 in 4 respondents said they’d feel comfortable working for an employer if some of their colleagues have nonviolent criminal records.

However, only 1 in 3 said they’d feel comfortable working for an employer if some of their colleagues had violent criminal records. Sixty percent said they’d feel uncomfortable, and the remainder said they didn’t know how they’d feel.

How Customers Feel

Similarly, about 3 in 4 said they’d feel comfortable buying goods or services from businesses if the customer-facing employee had a nonviolent criminal record. And just over half said they’d still feel comfortable doing so if the customer-facing employee had spent five or more years in prison. When asked how they’d feel about employees who’d been in prison, those surveyed weren’t told if the person serving prison time had committed a violent or nonviolent crime.

But again, only about 1 in 3 said they’d feel comfortable buying goods or services from businesses if the customer-facing employee had a violent criminal record. Sixty-three percent said they’d feel uncomfortable, while the rest said they didn’t know how they’d feel.

Company Policies

About 3 in 4 respondents said they’d feel comfortable working for an employer that’s known to hire those with criminal records.

But only 1 in 5 who are currently employed said they believed that their own organization hires people with criminal records.

“This is to be expected, as many employees are not aware of their employer’s policies on different hiring and managing practices,” the survey authors wrote.

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