Three decades of tough laws and policing have left 80 million U.S. adults with a criminal record, says the Wall Street Journal, citing FBI data. That arrest wave is “washing up on the desks of America's employers.” Companies must navigate a patchwork of state and federal laws that either encourage or deter hiring people with criminal pasts and doing the checks that reveal them. Employers must make judgments about who is rehabilitated and who isn't. Whichever decision they make, they face increasing possibilities court action.
The Internet and computerized databases make criminal history information easier than ever to obtain. Ignoring the records can leave a company vulnerable to making bad hiring decisions and to lawsuits. Using them can raise the ire of government officials and lead to charges of discrimination. The number of companies running criminal background checks has increased steeply in recent decades, said Prof. Michael Stoll of the University of California, Los Angeles. In the early 1990s, under half of employers used background checks. Nearly 90 percent of employers were doing them on some or all job applicants in 2012, says the Society for Human Resource Management. The group’s Michael Aitken says a slight decline since 2010 could stem from the complex legal landscape. “Some employers might say it isn't worth walking into that minefield,” he said, even though “a bad hire can have consequences for the company, its employees and its customers if that person commits another crime.”