(This article originally appeared in The Hill)
Last year, the noted columnist Andrew Sullivan was fired from his position at New York Magazine because, he wrote, the staff and management at the publication seemed to believe “that any writer not actively committed to critical theory in questions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity is actively, physically harming co-workers merely by existing in the same virtual space.”
Around the same time, well-known, centrist columnist Bari Weiss left her position at The New York Times after alleging that she had been bullied by some of her colleagues and was called a “racist” and a “Nazi” for her expressed views. “There are terms for all of this: unlawful discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge,” she wrote. “I’m no legal expert. But I know that this is wrong.”
Unfortunately, the newsrooms at New York Magazine and The New York Times were deemed to be unsafe places for their employees because they were forced to work with people with differing views. So, imagine how those same employees would feel if their organizations hired someone who could potentially be harmful. Say, someone who was convicted of committing an actual violent crime such as assault, battery, rape or even murder?
That’s what’s happening across the country right now. Because of the dire labor shortage caused by a perfect storm of government entitlements, higher savings and an out-of-control media hysteria around a virus that is in our rearview mirror, many people are still concerned about their “safety.” They’re quitting their jobs in record numbers and choosing to stay at home because it’s “safer.”
So, what can employers do? Why, here’s a good answer: hire unsafe people.
In California, a rubber recycling company’s long practice of hiring ex-felons is paying off as a resource for much needed labor. About half of the company’s 65 employees have spent time in prison and are mostly sourced from local halfway houses. “They stack up very well when it comes to skills,” the company’s CEO told the Los Angeles Times.
A job fair in Ohio attracted “background friendly” companies who were willing to hire people with a criminal past to fill their open positions. An ex-con who spent more than 33 years in prison for aggravated robbery and murder recently celebrated his anniversary with a manufacturer in Cincinnati. A former drug dealer is finding new employment opportunities in Tennessee. The CEO of JPMorgan Chase started a coalition aimed at hiring ex-cons. Kim Kardashian has pushed reforms to help prisoners get more jobs. There’s even a federal tax credit that rewards employers for hiring ex-convicts.
This is not new. Even before the pandemic, a report from the Society for Human Resource Management and the Charles Koch Institute found that an increasing number of employers were widening their search for job candidates to include people with criminal histories (a whopping one in three American adults). Many U.S. employers said they were willing to hire someone with a record if that applicant is the best person for the job, with more than 28 percent of corporate respondents even willing to hire those with prior records of violent crimes.
Good for them. People can be rehabilitated, and if there’s one silver lining in this labor shortage it is that there are more opportunities for those released from prison. In fact, and according to a recruiter from a Pennsylvania staffing agency, many employers have found that those released prisoners are an “untapped group” of employees. “These individuals want to work and can be productive on the job,” he told Fox News.
But what about my safety?
This is a world in which employees can get seasoned journalists fired because they feel threatened merely by existing in the same “virtual space.” This is a world in which a side-glance, an off-hand comment or an overly friendly hug can supposedly create an “unsafe space” and result in accusations of harassment or workplace bullying. This is a world in which some employees feel threatened when a co-worker has a different political view, doesn’t believe in climate change or enjoyed Dave Chappelle’s recent Netflix special.
So how can these workers, so afraid for their safety, cope with colleagues who literally killed or raped someone in their past? Well, we’re going to find out, because those workers’ jobs are being replaced by those very people. This is what you get when you get involved in a company’s employment practices.
Difficult times require difficult decisions. Small business confidence is dropping amid labor shortages. As a small business owner, many of my clients would be more than happy to hire an ex-prisoner who had been convicted of aggravated assault rather than some wokester who is upset because her boss once voted for a Republican and doesn’t support an increased minimum wage.
We’d be more than pleased to hire an ex-con who can be relied on to show up to the office every day and perform his job instead of a whining twenty-something who complains because a nearby employee is listening to music they find offensive.
So yes, let’s relax the rules around drug use and prior convictions if it means getting hard workers, even if their behavior is a little rough around the edges.