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A mini movement is afoot. It’s one step beyond the ban-the-box edict and known as “open hiring.” That means that people with “nontraditional” work histories can get hired, no questions asked, no employment application, no background check, just put your name on the list and wait for the call. Those include ex-convicts, the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics, refugees, those with immigration issues, and almost every other red flag an employer could run up. After the call, just show up to go to work. Is it effective? Does it actually provide jobs for the “nontraditional” employees? Or is it just a way to get cheap help and a smokescreen made to look like the employer wants to help the unemployable?

Greyston Bakery is the original company using open hiring and has been since 1982. Recently they have been joined by other companies such as The Body Shop, Ovenly (a New York City bakery), and Hot Chicken Takeover (a Columbus, Ohio, restaurant chain). Some large companies, such as Target, Starbucks, and Walmart don’t do a background check until they have decided they might hire an employee, but that’s a far cry from actual “open hiring.”

How it works is someone interested in a job shows up and puts his or her name on a list. The company calls when his or her name comes to the top and says “come to work.” At Greyston, they work in the warehouse stacking pallets or other jobs requiring no particular skill level. Mike Brady, CEO of Greyston was quested in a New York Times article as saying, “The candidate may not be so great at making eye contact and smiling. Does that mean he can’t stack brownies onto a pallet?” They are put on the payroll as apprentices for six months and after that time get to work as a regular employee—maybe.

I read several articles looked at websites for more information, and Greyston in particular left me with unanswered questions. I got in touch with them, but they declined to answer these five questions.

1. How many apprentices end up being hired full time?
2. How do you decide who gets hired full time?
3. Do you ever learn what your apprentices’ criminal records are? If so, which crimes are the most problematic?
4. How many apprentices leave before their apprenticeships are up?
5. How many people who begin as apprentices later move into more responsible positions such as management?

In fact, just about everything I read about Greyston looked like just PR. They tell heart-warming stories about people who have turned their lives around because they found work at Greyston. But they don’t respond to basic questions about their hiring program. Then there’s obfuscation from Dilara Casey, head of marketing at Hot Chicken Takeover. In evading-the-question style, she said, “Having a clean record doesn’t necessarily indicate that an employee is honest or trustworthy.” No it doesn’t and that’s why almost every employer screens applicants to learn, among other things, if they are honest and trustworthy.

Screening applicants is essential not just to get the best employees but also to avoid legal problems. An article in Findlaw.com, “An Employer’s Liability for Employee’s Acts,” explains, “Employers, and not the employees themselves, will often be held liable for the conduct of their employees. This is true even if the employer had no intention to cause harm and played no physical role in the harm.” Hire someone who is a danger to the public or other employees and run the risk of a negligent hiring claim.

Thebalancecareers.com explains, “A negligent hiring claim is made when the filer believes that the employer should have known about the employee’s background of violent behavior. In these claims, the filer attempts to prove that the injurious behavior was to be expected based on past behavior that demonstrated that the employee was dangerous, untrustworthy, a sexual predator, or a thief, to name a few possible claims.”

Honest, trustworthy, and competent employees can be ensured by careful screening of every applicant by checking former employers, doing criminal background checks, validating college degrees, drug screening, credit checks, explanations for employment gaps, and verifying everything on the application.

One huge concern employers, and landlords, for that matter, right now is that ban-the-box is just the beginning. In the future, look for new laws restricting our right to make sure the applicant is telling the truth and competent to do the job he or she is applying for. Several states and cities already prohibit asking about criminal records until after an applicant has been otherwise approved. We all need to be aware, though, that there are people who consider ban-the-box just a first step toward restricting employers and landlords from doing any screening so everyone has an “fair chance,” in spite of the of the fact that many people already had their “fair chance” and blew it.

By Robert L. Cain

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