As discussed last week in CWS 3.0, employing candidates impacted by the justice system, recovering from addiction or facing similar challenges that often eliminate them from hiring consideration opens up untapped pools of potential workers and provides other incentives for today’s contingent workforce program managers.

Such programs do come with unique challenges; however, these challenges are not insurmountable and can be overcome with sufficient knowledge, good policies and the right supportive staff.

Finding a Good Fit

Not all organizations — or all positions within one — are suitable for every fair chance candidate. For instance, a metal-sorting company handling a lot of copper might not want to hire a person with a pattern of theft, and a candidate with a record including violence could be a bad fit in an environment with highly competitive compensation and rewards programs. The right fair chance staffing solutions provider can help hiring managers find candidates who are a good fit for open positions.

Cheri Garcia founded Cornbread Hustle, a staffing agency specifically for second chances, six years ago to help justice-impacted people coming out of incarceration find meaningful work.

“I started a for-profit organization banking on the success of people coming out of prison,” she says. “I felt that I wanted to put my money where my mouth is if I’m saying that these people are really great employees. I won’t make any money unless they’re successful.”

Her company works with its clients — from startups to billion-dollar companies — to help determine what their criminal background policy should be based on the experience of her staff, who all have at least five years’ experience with the justice system or addiction.

“A lot of people come to us since this is their first time being engaged in second-chance hiring, so we just help them understand, based on our experience, what the perfect profile of a second chance hire would be for them,” she explains.


Organizations and their fair chance hiring suppliers have a social responsibility to ensure they are making good decisions to not only protect their existing workforce but to help the new hire thrive, according to Garcia. She recommends developing a good vetting program and working with someone who understands the population to create more potential for a successful environment.

When establish a vetting program, honesty is the most important thing.

“We still run the official background check. We still do drug tests. We are very diligent in our hiring process,” Garcia says. “We’re very strict on our own employees. So, we’re not going to hire employees and just hope for the best without running the background check and giving the drug test.”

A failed drug test eliminates the candidate, and if the background check comes back with anything that hadn’t been discussed or disclosed in prior discussions, it’s usually an automatic disqualification as well.

Flexible Support

Fair chance hires, both contingent and perm, need more support than traditional workers. In addition to emotional struggles, they may face challenges with transportation and housing, and they may need flexible schedules to attend required legal, support and medical appointments.

Working Fields, a staffing firm placing those recovering from substance abuse and incarceration, also provides peer support, a result of the founder’s experience with recovery coaching. The Vermont-based company placed 297 people last year and had 50 placements convert to full-time employees.

“We match everyone with a peer coach who works with them on their individual goals and can help them connect to resources and navigate things like transportation or housing or getting IDs back or anything along those lines,” says Marketing Director Daryn Forgeron. “We’ve found that not only is it incredibly successful for employers, but it also opens up the world to a huge pool of untapped candidates that employers just really weren’t working with before.”

However, this talent often needs to attend appointments and/or meetings that can cause tension with employers, supervisors and co-workers. That friction point is not insurmountable, though. Forgeron suggests that employers look at the policies already in place and question what they really need and where they can be flexible.

Edlund, a manufacturer of commercial kitchen equipment founded in 1925, is a recovery-friendly workplace that champions people-first policies and flexibility.

“Oftentimes, it’s less about giving them an extra hour off and more about letting them come in an hour late and work an hour late or adjusting when their start times are or things like that,” explains Tammy Bushell, Edlund’s head of HR. A 30-year HR professional, Bushell joined Edlund seven years ago after a family member struggled with substance misuse.

“I wanted to be able to be an employer who wouldn’t judge people just because of what’s going on either in their current life or something that might have happened in their past,” she explains.

Her hires often must jump through many hoops. They have meetings, so they need schedule changes. They may not have transportation. They may need to see a parole officer. They may need to meet with a counselor or a therapist or go to the Medical Assisted Treatment (MAT) clinic to get their prescriptions for their substance misuse.

“So yes, there are challenges, but at least when people come in and they are open and honest and they share their story, I have support systems in place to support them,” Bushell says. “If people come in off the road and they don’t share their story, then I can’t support them because I don’t know what’s going on — and that’s when we usually end up parting ways because they are just not ready to accept help.”

Alicia Boudreau, plant manager at Vermont-based Glavel Inc., taps Working Fields for workers at the manufacturer of building material made from 100% recycled glass. She has worked hard to adapt their policies, hours, offerings and more to create a welcoming, accessible environment for fair chance hires. Often referred to by workers as “Mama Glavel,” Boudreau creates a family-type environment at the workplace and serves as a mentor, confidant and support person for the fair chance hires.

“One of our biggest struggles has been transportation,” she says. “I actually often provide rides for my team, not because it is expected of me as plant manager but because I know that they have challenges with transportation and it is something that I can do.”

Willing to Take a ‘Fair Chance’?

There can be challenges with fair chance hiring programs, but they can be mitigated with proper guidance, expectations and policies. A good dose of caring is also essential.

The reward? Filling your openings with workers who, despite blemished pasts, are eager to work and may ultimately be great additions to your workforce.

“Your past is your past. It doesn’t define who you are today or who you are going to be in the future,” Bushell says.