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Monday, March 2, 2020

This company is hiring without asking about candidates’ backgrounds — here’s why


Originally published on CNBCKarina Hernandez
Wed, Feb 26 2020
Inquiries into your criminal background are standard when filling out a job application. But for folks who have experienced life behind bars, their prospects of getting hired are cut in half, hindering their ability to settle back into society.


 The Body ShopThe Body Shop, the cosmetics brand from the United Kingdom, wants to lend a helping hand for marginalized people struggling to get a job. This summer, the company will implement “open hiring” — a hiring process that employs anyone on a first-come first-serve basis without asking about criminal and educational backgrounds — in all of its North American stores. The Body Shop claims it is the first retailer to do so in the United States.

“For us it’s not about filling roles and hiring more people,” said Andrea Blieden, the U.S. general manager for The Body Shop. “This is about setting an example as a brand about how this can be a force for good and fight injustices in society that exist, like unequal access to employment.”


How ‘open hiring’ began

The concept of open hiring is often credited to Greyston Bakery, which was established in 1982 in Yonkers, New York. People can sign up for a job at the factory and are immediately hired once a position becomes available.

New hires go through an apprenticeship program to learn the job’s duties and basic life skills. Completion of the apprenticeship leads to an entry-level position with Greyston Bakery, which supplies Ben & Jerry’s with brownies and sells its own brownies at Whole Foods.

Lucas Tanner, chief operating officer of Greyston Bakery, considers the hiring practice to be revolutionary. “We profoundly believe that open hiring, even though it’s a simple idea and it’s an extraordinary idea, can change the world,” said Tanner.

Open hiring can also change lives. Arthur, 50, had been in and out of prison since he was 16 years old, and his criminal record affected his chances of obtaining a steady job. “So many people judge you by your background and mistakes you did in your past,” he said. “They will slam the door on you right away.”

But 19 months ago, Greyston Bakery took a chance on Arthur. He was immediately hired after patiently waiting eight months to land an interview with the company. “I wasn’t judged,” said Arthur. “Right off the bat I was given an opportunity.”

Oftentimes, companies ask Tanner whether the new hires are ever violent. He said that is a misconception of open hiring. “We’ve never witnessed that,” said Tanner.

Starting ‘open hiring’ with larger employers

In 2018, the company launched the Center for Open Hiring to aid other businesses in adopting similar practices. One of their clients is The Body Shop.

In September 2019, Greyston helped the company transform its North Carolina distribution center into a pilot program. Background checks and educational requirements were removed for the 208 seasonal workers hired at the distribution center. Only three questions were asked during the application process: “Are you authorized to work in the United States?,” “Can you stand for up to eight hours?” and “Can you lift over 50 pounds?”

Since the start of the program, the company saw a 60% decline in employee turnover in 2019 compared to 2018. These results convinced The Body Shop to take this initiative to its stores, in hopes of giving a second chance to marginalized communities, like formerly incarcerated people.

A 2018 report by the Prison Policy Initiative found that 27% of ex-offenders are unemployed, compared to just 5.2% of the general population. Those who have earnings when released from prison earn less than a full-time worker earning minimum wage.

“All of these barriers that come into people’s way can be lessened when someone has some independence,” said Han Lu, a policy analyst at National Employment Law Project, “which is usually found in a salary or a wage.”

In a time when employers are voicing concerns over a labor shortage, Lu believes it’s an opportunity for employers to take the lead and abandon criminal background checks. “Workers with records tend to be more reliable and can have less turnover,” explained Lu. “It’s a place where employers can have a big impact in the communities that they exist in.”

The Body Shop sees the potential in this untapped population. “You are expanding your employment opportunities and you are giving people a chance they might have not had,” said Blieden, “and the goal would be that you have less employees turn.”

Formerly incarcerated employees perform as well or better, studies show

Prior studies explain the benefits for an employer when hiring people with a criminal background. In a study of military members, experts found that among 1.3 million ex-felons in the military, those with a criminal record performed as well or better than those with no record.Often times, ex-felons were promoted faster to higher ranks.

In 2016, John Hopkins Hospital shared results of a five-year study on 500 ex-offenders it hired. There was a lower turnover rate in the first 40 months, compared to non-offenders.

But not everyone is on board with these types of hiring practices. Opponents say ex-offender friendly initiatives, like “ban the box” or “fair chance hiring,” come along with unintended consequences. Initiatives like “ban the box” or “fair chance hiring” differ slightly from “open hiring” because applicants still deal with the typical job application process, but any questions regarding criminal history are removed. In contrast, people are automatically hired through open hiring without a formal job application or interview.

A study claims that when criminal history information is removed during the hiring process, it can actually lead to an “increase of statistical discrimination against demographic groups that include more ex-offenders,” like black and Latino men, because of the assumption that they are more likely to possess a criminal record. These findings have been disputed by economists.

The movement for inclusive hiring gained some momentum in December 2019 when President Donald Trump signed the Fair Chance Act as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Federal agencies and contractors will be barred from inquiring about criminal records before a job offer. It will take effect at the end of 2021.

Just like the federal government, Andrea Blieden hopes other companies join The Body Shop to take a chance on those who have been locked out of the labor market. “We take chances every single day at work, in life,” said Blieden, “and this is probably one of the best chances that we have taken, and we’re really excited about it.”

This company is hiring without asking about candidates’ backgrounds — here’s why





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This company is hiring without asking about candidates’ backgrounds — here’s why


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