Fair Chance Hiring—A Comprehensive Guide

Updated · Mar 04, 2023

One in three American adults has a criminal record. Unfortunately, even minor offenses can seriously damage your chances of getting employment.

Ex-convicts face significant challenges getting their life back on track, and the difficulty of getting employment is a major cause for recidivism.

Keeping people with a record out of the workforce marginalizes them and means businesses miss out on valuable talent, not to mention it increases costs for the entire community.

Fair chance hiring is a better way to do things.

If you’re a job seeker with a criminal record, it means you get equal opportunity to turn your life around. On the other hand, if you’re a business owner, it allows you to find high-quality professionals who are more likely to become long-term employees (yes, according to actual statistics).

Here’s everything you need to know about the practice.

What Is Fair Chance Hiring?

It means considering job candidates without asking for criminal history. People who have criminal records often have the qualifications for employment, but their applications get discarded during the screening process.

Fair chance hiring practices—like not checking for a conviction history before making a conditional offer—allow ex-convicts to be evaluated based on their professional qualities, not on their previous trouble with the law.

However, you should take into account that specific legal requirements could overrule these practices.

For example, hiring a healthcare provider always requires a sanctions check and, no matter how much experience they have, you can’t choose someone who was convicted for Medicare fraud, patient abuse, or a felony to fill that position.

Fair Chance Hiring Laws

They’re also called ban-the-box laws and exist to give former convicts a better chance at getting a job.

While registration varies across states, the basic premise is the same—delay criminal history inquiry until you’ve evaluated the candidate for their skills.

Typical Requirements

Second chance ordinance provisions are usually along the lines of:

–You must not make conviction history inquiries before considering the applicant’s professional qualifications. You can only ask for their criminal background after they’re in the running. In fact, the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019 bans most federal agencies and contractors from asking about criminal history before making the conditional offer. Additionally, most background report services aren't certified to conduct checks for employment.

–If the candidate’s criminal history is a deal-breaker, you have to inform them in writing. You have to specify what part of the background check is the reason you’re no longer considering them. Candidates should get an opportunity to correct any inaccuracies and explain the situation to you, their potential future employer.

That said, second chance hiring requirements vary by jurisdiction.

Many fair chance hiring states ban employers from using criminal history as the only reason to reject a candidate, whereas some other states—23, to be exact—apply the act only to public-sector jobs.

Fair Chance Hiring by Location

Right now, over three-fourths of the US population lives under a jurisdiction with a ban-the-box law—36 states and over 150 cities have adopted such policies.

California, for example, has a statewide ban-the-box policy, delaying background checks until the employer has made a conditional offer. Some California cities already had such hiring requirements before the state legislation came along.

In fact, California’s new law closely mirrors the LA and SF ordinances:

–The San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance is for city contractors, subcontractors, leaseholders, and employers with five or more full-time employees. The act withholds criminal backgrounds until the conditional offer. It also prohibits employers from considering convictions other than felony or misdemeanor, convictions older than seven years, as well as arrests that didn’t result in a sentence.

–The Los Angeles Fair Chance Initiative applies to private employers and city contractors. Aside from banning criminal inquiries before a conditional offer, it also dictates that if a candidate is rejected based on their background check, they should have the opportunity to explain their past missteps.

Apart from California, there are twelve more states with ban-the-box laws that apply to private employers—Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Second Chance Employers

In thirteen states, being a second chance employer is the only choice you have. So, make sure to read up on applicable legislation before making any new hires—wrongfully rejecting a candidate can come at a high legal cost.

But don’t worry—people with a criminal record aren’t more likely to commit a misdemeanor. In fact, ex-convicts are usually motivated to do better. The nation’s largest second chance employer, the US Military, says felons are 33% more likely to become Sergeants.

Even if the laws don’t affect you, giving candidates a fair chance at jobs comes with plenty of perks for your company.

Retention rates are higher for employees with a criminal past, and the turnover is much lower, which translates into lower recruitment costs and a better, more qualified team on your side.

There are also tax incentives for hiring ex-convicts. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), for example, allows you to save up to $2,400 in tax discount for every felon you hire.

And, while many people in HR are hesitant about hiring people with criminal records, there are plenty of success stories that paint a different picture.

A Case Study

Arte Nathan, former HR guy for Steve Wynn's casinos worldwide, tells the story of ex-gang member Tony in his TEDx talk.

When Nathan first met Tony, he was a rough, tattooed guy with a missing eye (lost to a knife fight) and a long criminal history. But Tony also had a pregnant girlfriend, and they were hoping to raise the child in a crime-free environment.

Despite his initial hesitation, Nathan gave Tony a fair chance and hired him as a cleaner. And, it worked out—Tony eventually became a team leader and supervisor, passed his probation, and hasn’t reoffended since.

So, whether you do it for employee loyalty, the tax benefits, or simply because you believe people deserve a second chance, becoming a second chance employer has plenty of perks.

How to Become a Fair Chance Employer

Here’s what you need to do:

– Get executive leadership on board. Explain what fair chance hiring is and the benefits that come with it. Talk about it at an organizational level and make sure your HR and legal team are in on the conversation.

– Remove the question from job applications. Don’t ask about criminal history in your posting. You can also take this one step further by stating your commitment to inclusivity, regardless of past records.

– Build a skills-based talent pipeline. Many ex-cons might have gaps in their resumes but boast impressive skill sets. Ponder transferable skills and motivation to grow over past experience. This is what fair chance hiring is all about.

– Assess background checks fairly. Read up on how to run a background investigation and make sure your screening process follows the appropriate regulations. If a check returns a conviction, resist the urge to reject the candidate automatically. Instead, evaluate the offense and consider the nature of the crime, how long it has been since they committed it, and how relevant it is to the position you’re considering them for.

– Allow candidates to explain. Fair chance employment isn’t about ignoring an applicant’s past. If you see an offense that makes you question the hire, take the time to understand the situation; informing the candidate and giving them a chance to explain offers a more comprehensive, holistic look at each case.

Jobs for People With a Criminal Record

Looking for employment when you have a criminal record can be even more challenging than a conventional job hunt. But with the rise of the second chance employment movement, more and more companies are willing to hire ex-convicts.


If you have a criminal record and you’re looking for a job, here’s what we at Hosting Tribunal recommend you do:

– Learn your rights. If you live in a state with a fair chance act that applies to private businesses, employers can’t ask you about your conviction history before evaluating your skills. Get information and speak up if anyone violates these rights.

– Build job skills. While some fields are off-limits to those with a record, there are plenty of opportunities out there. You can get vocational training for an in-demand skill like computer technology, mechanics, or digital media.

– Look for a hiring platform or an organization that offers second chance opportunities. For instance, the National H.I.R.E Network offers employment search assistance to ex-cons around the country, and America Works finds entry-level placements for people who have trouble finding a job (including those with a criminal record). You could also check Indeed for fair chance jobs and apply through the platform.

– Demonstrate your abilities. Make sure your CV, cover letter, and job application highlight what an awesome addition you would make to the company. Remember: you need to let your qualifications speak for you, not your past mistakes. If you’re unsure about how to go about this, you can always hire resume writing services. Some are pretty affordable, and the investment is worth it.

– Make sure your record is free of inaccuracies. The National Employment Law Project found that half of all FBI checks for employment are faulty. Keep in mind that your past is likely to come out, even in organizations that run fair chance projects, so read through your record and submit a request to correct any inaccurate information.

Expungement Laws

Many states have expungement laws for minor offenses (which means you can apply to have your record erased altogether), and some of them have even approved automatic expungement for certain convictions. For example, there’s marijuana-specific automatic record clearing in California, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

The Restoration of Rights Project has compiled all the information in one place so you can easily check your state’s legislation.

Ultimately, there are plenty of jobs for someone with a criminal record. Employers and policymakers are increasingly aware of the importance of including ex-convicts in the workforce.

While your job hunt might be harder than usual because of your record, things are getting better.

With the right skills and some persistence, you’ll find employment eventually.

Wrap Up

Historically, ex-convicts have had a difficult time re-entering the workforce. However, marginalizing them increases reoffense rates and robs companies of valuable employees.

Fair hiring laws build on the principle of judging the candidate, not their record. It’s a simple idea—recruiting people for their skills, not their past.

If you’re an ex-convict looking for a job, get educated on your rights and start exploring opportunities today. You deserve a workplace that appreciates you for the professional you are without judging you for past mistakes.

If you’re a business currently expanding your team, remember fair hiring can help you find skillful, motivated, and committed workers.

So, before you reject a candidate solely based on their record, consider the advantages and offer candidates a second chance.

What does fair chance hiring mean?
It means that, as a company, you don’t ask for conviction history before evaluating the candidate’s skills. If you come across a criminal record, you give applicants the chance to correct any inaccuracy or explain the situation.
What is a fair chance job background check?
A fair chance background check happens after a skill-based interview and evaluation. In some states, it’s only allowed after a conditional job offer. Running a fair employment screening also means allowing candidates to explain past missteps that come up in their records and correct any inaccurate information before rejecting them.
What is a fair chance act?
It’s a law that applies to employers in a particular jurisdiction and protects ex-convicts from discrimination. Currently, 36 states have a second chance hiring act. In thirteen of them, this legislation also applies to private companies.
What are fair hiring practices?
  • Not asking for criminal background on initial job applications.
  • Conducting skills-based candidate evaluations.
  • Postponing background checks until after an initial offer.
  • Informing candidates if the offer was withdrawn because of a background check.
  • Allowing candidates to correct record inaccuracies or explain convictions.
What is second chance hiring?
It’s a synonym for fair chance hiring. It means giving candidates with a criminal background a fair opportunity for getting a job by granting them a skill-based evaluation process.
Denny Pencheva
Denny Pencheva

Denny is a content marketing enthusiast, writer, and occasional tech geek. She also studies Medicine, sometimes.