Illinois employers more open to hiring people with felonies

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 08: A 'now hiring' sign is posted outside of a Ross Dress for Less store on July 8, 2016 in San Francisco, California. According to the the U.S. Labor Department, employment growth surged with 287,000 added jobs in June. The unemployment rate inched up to 4.9% from 4.7% with an estimated 400,000 people returning to the workforce, many who had given up on job searches. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Illinois News Network) — Illinois businesses are taking another look at hiring people with criminal records amid changes to state laws and evolving attitudes.

The legislature has changed licensing laws and lengthened the list of offenses that can be sealed and not reported to potential employers.

Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), said the group’s research shows two-thirds of employers have hired workers with criminal records.

“It doesn’t cost more to hire them, they have better retention, they compete and perform at work at the same level in terms of quality performance,” he said.

Still, those with criminal records face many barriers to employment.

Related: Out of prison and heading to Stanford, Illinois man pushes for criminal justice reform

“We have data now to where we can actually get an employer to get past their bias, but there is nonetheless a bias,” Taylor said.

About 27,000 people were released from prison in Illinois in 2017. Illinois is joining other states across the country in taking steps to help those with criminal records get jobs. Data show 42 percent of Illinois’ population has a criminal record or arrest record, which can be an impediment to finding employment. Another issue is coworkers.

“The average employee said, ‘I don’t want to work next to someone who just got out of prison.’ And that’s our biggest challenge,” Taylor said.

Some new measures from state and federal governments could alleviate employers’ concerns over liability. Certain types of bonds would cover an employer if someone they hire with a criminal record does something to hurt the company.

“So that if the employer hires someone who has a background in theft or embezzlement or fraud and that person engages in that conduct, the employer is essentially reimbursed,” Taylor said.

SHRM’s research on the topic shows that more than 80 percent of managers and two-thirds of human resource professionals feel that the value workers with criminal records bring to the organization is as high as or higher than that of workers without records.