Article: Fair chance for applicants in times of COVID-19

Life @ Work

Fair chance for applicants in times of COVID-19

With rising unemployment rates in times of the pandemic, will employers give all job-seekers a fair chance regardless of an arrest or conviction record?
Fair chance for applicants in times of COVID-19

About 2,100 candidates, who were once on the other side of the law, found jobs in areas such as transaction processing, lending, and account servicing at a financial services firm in the US in 2018. Among them were many who had been arrested for or convicted of crimes including disorderly conduct, personal drug possession, and driving under the influence (DUI), says the company’s website. The employer is one of the numerous that have opened the doors to qualified applicants with an arrest or conviction record -- law (and/or regulator) permitting. It had erased the ‘box’ – referring to record-related questions which hopefuls earlier needed to answer on job applications. Besides, it allied with various organizations to skill and mentor more such people.

Last year, a metro operator offered a free pass for up to four, free round trips to a 2nd Chance Job Fair in the US. It also asked visitors to the expo to meet its staff to obtain information on transportation careers and vacancies.

Washington and several states have brought in various “ban-the-box” (BTB) laws designed to level the field for all when they apply for work. A hirer and candidate can, however, discuss the topic at a later stage.

Legal requirements aside, the re-entry proposition has takers as it is entwined with some personal and public delights: they can help to rejuvenate neighborhoods (and industry), fill a skills gap, check recidivism, and so on. 

One of the incentives US employers can claim is a tax credit for recruiting specified groups that have “faced significant barriers” in the job market. Plus, a “job placement” instrument launched as a bonding program would cover “any loss due to employee theft of money or property with no deductible amount to become the employer’s liability,” according to the federal institution for training and other services to corrections agencies.

While some have primarily deployed an ask-no-question rule (at least initially), others have stressed mainly on facilitative steps including training and ‘matchmaking’ to place ex-cons and prisoners. (Not all positions, however, may be open to all.)

In the UK, businesses can meet potential joinees shortlisted by a career center, employ soon-to-be-discharged, trained convicts on day release to first ‘try’ them out, or start an enterprise engaging inmates in a corrections house. A company, which opened its roastery and barista training campus in a prison, went on to set up coffee academies at “justice sector institutions” in the country. Further, many  legal, financial services, management consultancy, food and drugs, health, non-profit, industrials and engineering, construction, and other organizations in addition to the civil services have agreed to “ban” the box, says a business-community outreach charity.  

Singapore boasts several workshops and a subsidiary of a government agency as well as private companies’ business units in corrections centers for convicts to work in. The in-house employment options range from electronics assembly, data archiving, and call center operations to secondary repackaging. Elsewhere, such sectors as F&B and logistics have absorbed many.

Trained inmates can be placed in the industry outside shortly after they have served time or while completing the last leg of their sentence in the community. Under a program, the latter need to respect a curfew the authorities set and would change to accommodate, for example, overtime requests. The agency also offers to pair a recruit with a coach for several months at work. As part of another program, businesses that eventually induct a “Career Trial” worker qualify for financial support.

It seems roadblocks have been lifted, though the path from a cell to a cubicle is still not always smooth for everybody. Will it be any different in economies with rising unemployment rates as more job-seekers, including those with records, try to join the workforce? Even before governments announced lockdowns to control the coronavirus pandemic, some employers would have concerns about, for instance, compatibility, public perception and attrition. Critics of the anti-box legislative route in the US argued for solutions such as training prisoners while others suggested improved laws and background checks, among a combination of other initiatives. In a changing business environment particularly now, will employers give all qualified contenders a fair chance with or without a statutory nudge or (an additional) monetary reward? Let’s hope they are able to.


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Topics: Life @ Work, #GuestArticle, #COVID-19

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