Smudges: Employment Signals in Criminal Background Checks


Emma Harrington and Natalia Emanuel. In Preparation. “Smudges: Employment Signals in Criminal Background Checks”.


We use data from a national staffing agency to compare the predictive content of criminal background checks to that of other signals that an employer observes about prospective employees. Even when managers are blind to criminal records that do not disqualify the candidate from the job, such a record does signal that the worker is less likely to complete the temporary assignment and receive a favorable review from the manager. However, the negative signal of a criminal record is more than outweighed by having completed a temporary assignment in the past. Our evidence suggests that prior work experience should outweigh criminal records when managers make hiring decisions. In our ongoing work, we highlight particular types of convictions that do not contain insight about workers' productivity and what types of prior convictions may have particularly racially disparate impacts in the labor market.

Last updated on 11/01/2020