Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Managers Consider Job-Applicant Criminal History

    How do managers actually consider a job applicant’s criminal history, given the law?  A recent study finds that it has a lot to do with how much discretion those managers have under company policy: Sarah E. Lageson, Michael Vuolo, and Christopher Uggen, “Legal Ambiguity in Managerial Assessments of Criminal Records,” Law & Social Inquiry (2014) (online).  Here’s the abstract:

 In an age of widespread background checks, we ask how managers in different organizational contexts navigate legal ambiguity in assessing applicants' criminal history information, based on interview data obtained in a recent field experiment. The study builds on institutional analyses of the social sources of workplace legality to describe how employers consider applicants with criminal histories. We find that some organizations set explicit standards to guide hiring decisions, providing concrete policies on how to treat applicants with records. Where such procedural mandates are lacking, however, hiring managers turn to a micro-rational decision process to evaluate potential risk and liability. These individualized approaches create inconsistencies in how the law is interpreted and applied across organizations, as evidenced by actual hiring behavior in the field experiment.

 The paper is based on forty-eight interviews of hiring managers.  The authors conducted those interviews as part of larger field experiment on how employers in the Twin Cities metropolitan area reacted to “tester” job-applicants with criminal histories.  From their interviews, the authors infer that “an applicant with a low-level criminal history may be more likely to find employment in a workplace that has formally assessed the risks and legality associated with hiring an applicant with a record, as opposed to a firm where hiring managers make largely discretionary hiring decisions, personally carrying the burden of liability.”


--Sachin Pandya

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