AURORA | For a felon looking to jump back into the workforce, sometimes it doesn’t matter how kind they are, how qualified they are or how willing to work they are.
What matters is that little check mark denoting a criminal past.
“People are very intimidated, not necessarily by the person that’s sitting in front of them, but by what it says on their background check,” said Sean Taylor, deputy director of the Second Chance Center, which helps people transition from incarceration to civilian life.
Taylor has also experienced it himself. The staff at Second Chance don’t just help other parolees — they’ve also spent time behind bars themselves. Taylor was released from prison in 2011 after serving 22 years on a murder conviction.
When management at a gym where he was working as a trainer learned of his record, they asked him to leave and said they’d call him later to tell him if he still had a job.
They never called.
“Anything on that paper seems to frighten people, and they try to find the most kind way to tell you that they don’t want you working there,” he said.
A bill working its way through the state Legislature aims to make it a little easier for former convicts to get a job by barring companies from asking about criminal history on initial applications. Companies could ask during an interview and run any background check they please, but backers say “banning the box” on applications could at least help people with criminal pasts get to the next phase of the job hunt.
The legislation has met opposition from business groups who say it adds another odious rule to an already-tough hiring process.
State Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, the bill’s sponsor, said she is confident the bill, which has already cleared two readings in the House, will pass in that chamber. The Republican-led Senate could be a tougher sell, she said.
McCann, a Denver prosecutor who is running for Denver District Attorney, said getting more convicts into the workplace is good for public safety because it makes it less likely they will revert to crime.
And, she said, business owners can still ask about criminal history — just at a point where the applicant has a chance to explain their story.
“It’s really not very burdensome, it just gives the person a chance to have their résumé reviewed and their qualifications judged,” she said.
But business leaders oppose the bill.
Tony Gagliardi, Colorado director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said that while big companies may take several weeks to hire someone, small businesses don’t have that luxury.
“They need somebody now,” he said.
And when they need to make a hire within 24 to 48 hours, any additional hurdle is a problem.
While companies are never arbitrary about why they don’t hire someone, employers should be able to ask whatever they think is important early on, he said.
“This is the right of the employer to ask at anytime, whether they want to have the box on the application or not,” he said.