New background-check guidelines give convicted criminals a second chance at jobs

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by Brian New / KENS 5

khou.com

Posted on May 18, 2012 at 8:42 AM

SAN ANTONIO - The federal government is now making it harder for employers to use background checks.

While some say new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines give people a second chance, others say it's putting co-workers and customers in unnecessary danger.

Michael Rivera, 39, said when he applies for jobs his 1993 conviction for burglary and aggravated assault usually disqualifies him from consideration.

“You get the door shut on you and you are expecting people to give you opportunities and they don't give them to you," he explained. "It's something that I have to constantly deal with every time I fill out an application."

Under a ruling last month from the EEOC, in most cases employers can no longer have a policy that excludes applicants simply because they have a criminal record.

The commission noted such a policy can be discriminatory as Hispanic and African-American men are incarcerated at a much higher rate than white men.

Employers must now look at each offense on a case-by-case basis, considering how long ago the crime happened and the risk-factor based on the job being applied for.

For instance, it may be justifiable not to hire a convicted criminal to work at a daycare, but perhaps It would be acceptable to hire that person at a factory.

Kevin Downey, CEO of Crosspoint Inc – operators of half-way houses in San Antonio for convicted criminals, said the new ruling is a major breakthrough backed by decades of research.

"It's not saying looking at criminal records is good or bad,” he said. “It's saying use your head.”

Downey said with one in four Americans having an arrest or conviction record those who have changed should be given a second chance.

"If we cannot get them to a place where they can be employed with a living wage we are hurting our own chance to improve public safety in this city," Downey explained.

However, many employers have expressed major concerns over the new guidelines.

“When you walk into a store, you expect the environment to be safe," said Stephanie Gibson of the Texas Retail Association.

Gibson said most employers understand people deserve a second chance, but added employers should not be forced by the government to provide that chance.

“It's a fiscal responsibility. It's a moral responsibility. It's a legal responsibility that we protect our consumers and employees," she said.

After being rejected for dozens of jobs, Rivera will start a new job this week as a construction worker.
 
Rivera said the only way he landed the job was the employer is a friend who was willing to give him a chance – a chance more employers will now have to provide -even if they don't want to.
 

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