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 and probationary period would not hinder her from employment. Her attorney’s advice could not have been further from the truth because within days, Susan lost her job after her employer found out about her felony conviction. This continued 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; however, she still could not afford rent, which led to her being homeless and living out of her car.
“The constant rejection takes its toll on your self-esteem and self-worth,” Susan said. “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 did not stop Susan from trying to gain employment at a restaurant that did not 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; therefore, she was unable to pay restitution. As a result of this, her probation was violated and extended for a longer period.
The light at the end of the tunnel was seen after years of job losses, and on-and-off homelessness, Susan decided to fight the charges that had haunted her for the past nine years. In July 2016, a judge ordered that her felony conviction be dismissed. Susan was confident and overjoyed because when she applied for a couple of jobs, she was offered positions after she informed prospective employers about the charges being dismissed. To her dismay, she found out that not all background checks reveal the same information. There was a 3rd party vendor utilized by an employer that reported inaccurate information and instead of omitting the dismissed case like they were supposed to, they reported it. To add to her frustration, she contacted the background screening company to inform them of the inaccuracy and instead of correcting their records, they became angry and defensive.
The remedy is implementing Fair Chance Hiring Policies, which 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 that inaccurate information is ever 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.” If an individual has already paid their debt to society, they should not suffer through punishment for the rest of their lives.