Susan Stephens was a normal American who in 2007 was accused by an ex-husband of committing a crime that resulted in a felony charge. Her attorney at the time advised her to plead guilty assuring her that in her line of work (social worker) and no other previous crimes this one conviction wouldn’t hinder her from employment. Nothing could have been further from the truth, within days Susan lost her job after her employer found out about her felony conviction. This continue to be a theme for Susan as she was denied job after job because of her past criminal record.
Due to not being able to find consistent employment Susan’s financial situation became dire. She downsized her life to the most basic necessities but still couldn’t afford rent which led to her being homeless and living out of her car. In her words “The constant rejection takes its toll on your self-esteem and self-worth,” she says. “I felt like my feet were stuck in cement. I tried everything to get my life back on track. I started volunteering because I hoped to gain people’s trust so they could see my work ethic and consider hiring me. No one would give me a chance.” This didn’t stop Susan from trying to gain employment, which she did at a restaurant that didn’t conduct background checks. Everything seemed to be going in the right trajectory until her probation officer (Susan was placed on probation as part of her sentencing) did an onsite visit at her place of employment. After the restaurant learned about her criminal past they terminated her employment. This resulted in her not being able to pay restitution and violated her probation which was extended.
There was however a light at the end of the tunnel, after years of job losses, and on-and-off homelessness Susan decided to fight the charges that had haunted her for 9 years! In July 2016 a judge ordered that her felony conviction be dismissed. Susan was confident and overjoyed, however that was short lived as Susan found out “I applied for a couple of jobs, told the employers about the charges being dismissed, and was offered positions”. To her dismay she found out that not all background checks reveal the same information, unfortunately the 3rd party vendor utilized by the employer reported inaccurate information (instead of omitting the dismissed case they reported it). To add to her frustration she contacted the background screening company to inform them of the inaccuracy, instead of correcting their records they became angry and defensive.
The remedy? Insert Fair Chance Hiring Policies, this allows job seekers with a criminal record to disclose and explain details about the crime before the background check is done. Furthermore it provides protection to the employee in the event inaccurate information was provided. As Susan puts it “Fair Chance Hiring is important because people need to be able to work so they can meet their basic needs of shelter and food,” says Susan. “If someone has already paid their debt to society, they should not have to be punished for the rest of their lives.”