Sentencing/Post Conviction

Are former offenders more likely to be fired for misconduct?

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Prisoner behind bars.

Workers with criminal records in low-skilled, white-collar jobs are generally no more likely to be fired than other employees, with one exception, according to a study by researchers at Northwestern University.

Among the employees in the study who were fired, those with a criminal record were slightly more likely to be fired for misconduct—if they were in sales positions. The study is available at SSRN.

Past studies of the personality traits of ex-offenders have found they are more likely to score higher in neuroticism (the tendency to experience negative emotions easily), which tends to predict bad job outcomes, and to score lower on conscientiousness, which is the most important trait that predicts good job outcomes. Despite these differences, the ex-offenders were no more likely to be fired and about 13 percent less likely to quit. Their average job tenure in the high turnover positions was about 23 days longer than those without records.

The study was based on data from a consulting business that makes hiring recommendations based in part on psychological and other pre-employment exams. The jobs examined were low-skilled, white-collar jobs in areas such as customer service and call-center representatives. The study looked at job outcomes for about 18,000 employees; about 12 percent of them had criminal records.

“In terms of policy recommendations,” the study says, “we must stress the need for additional work. At present we have no way of balancing the benefits of the longer tenure of workers with a criminal record against the potential costs of their higher rate of misconduct discharges. Frightening stories abound, and large negligent hiring judgments have indeed been rendered for the acts of employees with criminal backgrounds. Similar judgments, however, have also been imposed for the acts of employees without a criminal record. At present, aggregate statistics are lacking and supposed evidence is basically folklore.”

The study was conducted by Deborah Weiss, a researcher with Northwestern University School of Law, and Dylan Minor and Nicola Persico of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

Weiss tells the ABA Journal that the key implication of the study is that further research can identify subgroups that are at higher or lower risk for misconduct. “It is of little importance that, in our data, the higher risk group is sales workers,” she said. “What matters is that we can make some generalization.”

Some employers have already made a commitment to disregard criminal records in hiring, and Weiss hopes those employers will analyze the results to identify the lowest risk subgroups. The employers could then share their analysis to encourage more cautious employers to relax their policy toward hiring people with criminal records, Weiss said. “The lower risk groups could be identified in any one of many possible ways,” she said, including “job category, people with older conviction records, those who committed nonviolent offenses, and so on.”

Hat tip to the Hat tip the Marshall Project.

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