Monday, May 6, 2013

Hiring, Racism, and Criminal Records

Akil S. Roper, vice president, assistant general counsel and supervising attorney of the Prisoner Re-entry Project at Legal Services of New Jersey, is calling for the passage of a state law that would forbid employers from doing criminal background checks on job applicants until after a job has been offered:

The bill (S2586, and its Assembly companion A3837), known as the New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act, would allow employers to consider applicants’ criminal record histories only after a conditional job offer has been extended.

The title of the article, A Fairer Way to Hire Minorities in NJ, immediately got my back up. 

I left the following comments:

The attempt to frame the issue in a cloak of implied racism is a despicable smear against employers that almost caused me to dismiss this column in disgust, except that crucial issues are at stake--specifically, the attempt to legally strong-arm employers. The issue of hiring people with criminal records has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with the right of employers to set their own terms of employment. 
That right has already been substantially eroded, and the "NJ Opportunity to Compete Act" further violates employers' individual rights. Just as no one should be forced to take a job against his will, so employers should not be forced to hire anyone against his will. An employment contract is properly and morally a strictly voluntary agreement. 
The description of the bill indicates that the employer would still be "allowed" to make the final hiring determination. Be that as it may, no one should have to seek permission from the government before hiring someone, which is what the use of the term "allowed" really means. It's naive to ignore the actual nature of such a law, which would be a further wedge of political coercion into private employment contracts. 

There are undoubtedly ex-convicts who are sincere about turning their lives around and thus worthy of hire and a chance to build a life. I will be the first to recognize the courage and determination of such individuals, particularly those who have been snared into "ex-prisoner" status by unjust laws such as those that criminalize personal drug use. And no, it is not easy. But, there are undoubtedly many bad ex-cons, and the worthiness of an ex-con job applicant is a profoundly important decision; a judgment that rightfully belongs only to prospective employers to make, not politicians. Employers alone have the moral right to decide whether the hiring of an ex-con, as opposed to someone without a criminal record, is worth the extra risk.  
The morally proper role of ex-con advocacy groups like Prisoner Re-Entry Project is to educate employers about ex-con job applicants and judge them as individuals, and to persuade employers to voluntarily hire them, not force them to hire ex-cons with government as the hired gun.  
Working to help worthy ex-cons get back on their feet is laudable. Coercing employers to hire them with laws such as S2586 is contrary the proper role of government, which is to protect everyone's right to act on his own judgment so long as his actions do not violate another's rights.

Related Reading:

"Greed" is a Two-Way Street

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