Fair Chance


adapted from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) with some initial further research



Removing questions about criminal history from job applications is one simple policy change that eases hiring barriers and creates a fair chance to compete for jobs. Known as a “Fair Chance Hiring Policy”, this change allows employers to judge applicants on their qualifications first, without the stigma of a criminal record. The most effective policies provide a “fair chance hiring policy” and ensure that background checks are used fairly. Employers should make individualized assessment instead of blanket exclusions and consider the age of the offense and its relevance to the job. Candidates should be given an opportunity to review background-check results. Expanding these common-sense recommendations to private employers will give workers a fair chance.


There are an estimated 70 Million U.S. adults with arrests or convictions that often make it much harder to find work. The question about criminal history on a job application is a barrier to jobs because it has a chilling effect that discourages people from applying. It also artificially narrows the applicant pool of qualified workers when employers’ toss out applications with the criminal history question answered affirmatively, regardless of the applicant’s qualification or relevancy of the conviction to the job. Both the employer and the job applicant lose out. Research affirms that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by nearly 50%.

  • 70 million people in the U.S. have some sort of criminal record (almost 12 million in Texas).  Nearly 700,000 people return to American communities after incarceration each year.  See NELP
  • Almost one-fourth of adult workers in the United States have a criminal background. See Louisville
  • A history of incarceration reduces a worker’s chances of being hired by 15 to 30 percent, with minorities and the under-educated affected most, according to the Center for Economic Policy and Research.  See CEPR
  • Criminal background inquiries on application forms discourage people from applying for jobs. The application pool is narrowed significantly when employers refuse to consider applicants with criminal records.  See NELP
  • Limited future employment opportunities and earnings potential are among the strongest predictors of recidivism. See 65 Million Need Not Apply
  • Approximately two-thirds (69%) of organizations reported that they conduct criminal background checks on all of their job candidates. See Background Checking
  • 92 percent of large employers run background checks.  See Boxed

Policies in Other Localities

  • 13 states and 70 cities and counties have enacted fair chance hiring policies. See NELP
  • On February 23, 2015, Georgia became the 14th state and first in the South to enact statewide Fair Chance Hiring Policies.  See Georgia

It Works!

  • Employment for individuals with criminal records increases household income and a community’s overall GDP.  A 2011 study showed that putting 100 formerly incarcerated people back to work would increase their lifetime earnings by $55 million. See Economy League
  • Fair Chance Hiring Policies return taxpayer money to taxpayers. Washington State analysis: Providing job training and employment to a formerly incarcerated person returned more than $2,600 to taxpayers.  See Washington study
  • Removing obstacles to employment for applicants with criminal records increases public safety. Three-year recidivism study showed that formerly incarcerated individuals with one year of employment had a 16 percent recidivism rate over three years as opposed to a 52.3 percent rate for all Department of Correction releases.  See Safer Foundation
  • City of Minneapolis: Research showed that a fair chance hiring policy resulted in more than half of applicants with convictions being hired.  See Impact in Minneapolis
  • City of Atlanta: As a result of its new criminal disclosure policy, 10 percent of the City’s hires between March and October of 2013 were people with criminal records.
  • Durham County: The number of applicants with criminal records recommended for hire has almost tripled in the two years since its fair chance hiring policy passed. 96.8 percent of those with criminal records recommended for hire ultimately got the job.  Durham County enacted a fair chance hiring policy in 2011.  In 2011, the percentage of individuals with a criminal record who were hired by the County was 2.25 percent. In 2014, that number rose to 15.53 percent.  See Benefits in Durham County

Removing Job Barriers Helps the Economy and is Good for Business

The reduced output of goods and services of people with felonies and prison records is estimated at $57 to $65 Billion in losses to the nation’s economy. Allowing people to work increases their tax contributions, boosts sales tax, and saves money by keeping people out of the criminal justice system. Major employers such as Target and Wal-Mart removed the questions about criminal history because it made sense.

Employment Reduces Re-Offending

Employment has been found to be a significant factor in reducing re-offending. One study found that a 1 percent drop in the unemployment rate causes between a 1 to 2 percent decline in some offences.


A fair chance policy has a real impact. Research indicates that once an employer has had a chance to examine the qualifications of the applicant, the employer would be more willing to hire the applicant. It’s a tried and tested policy. In the United States, thirteen states have embraced a fair chance hiring policy with six extending it to private employers. At last count, about 70 cities and counties had adopted a policy. Now is the time to enact a fair chance hiring policy for all.


What is a Fair Chance Hiring Policy?

Fair Chance Hiring Policies remove the questions about criminal history information from a job application. In addition to delaying criminal history inquiry until later in the hiring process, these policies include procedures to help employers find the best candidates for the job and ensure job seekers have an opportunity to be considered for their skills and qualifications.

What doesn’t a fair chance hiring policy do?

Typically, a fair chance hiring policy does not prohibit employers from running a background check nor does it prevent employers from considering an applicant’s criminal history when making an employment decision. The employer retains the discretion to hire the most qualified candidate.

Do fair chance hiring policies work?

Yes. Fair chance hiring policies have been so successful that some cities and states have expanded their policies to include private employers. Because policies were adopted starting in the early 2000s, now several jurisdictions have had years of experience with the policy. The locations that have collected data on the fair chance hiring policies show an increase in hiring people with records. This makes sense as research indicates that personal contact with an applicant reduces the negative effect of a criminal record on the employment decision. See NELP’s Fact Sheet on Research.

Who Supports fair chance hiring policies?

Fair chance hiring policies are supported by policymakers across the political spectrum, law enforcement, faith leaders, labor unions, civil rights and criminal justice reform groups, and more. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also endorsed the policy. See NELP’s factsheets.

Who has adopted fair chance policies?

Currently thirteen states and about 70 cities and counties around the country have adopted fair chance hiring policies. Six states and over a dozen local jurisdictions apply their policies to private employers and /or government contractors. Target and Wal-Mart both have voluntarily removed the question about criminal records from their initial job applications. See NELP’s Guides.


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