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Is it disqualifying? Practitioner responses to criminal offenses in hiring decisions

Kristine M. Kuhn (Department of Management, Carson College of Business, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 7 June 2019

Issue publication date: 25 June 2019




The purpose of this paper is to explore variation in the responses of human resource practitioners and managers to criminal offenses.


This paper considers background checks as a personnel selection test. In the first study, 280 professionals with hiring experience indicate how various criminal offenses, described as having occurred either within the past year or several years ago, would affect their evaluation of an applicant for a call center position. In the second study, a separate sample of 109 practitioners evaluates criminal as well as non-criminal transgressions that might appear on a background report.


In Study 1, both the apparent seriousness of an offense and its recency influence modal responses. Even non-violent misdemeanors from several years ago, however, are judged as automatically disqualifying by some participants. Study 2 shows that a practitioner’s attitude toward criminal offenses is distinct from their attitude to related forms of stigma. Results from both studies find associations between demographic variables and general willingness to accept applicants with criminal records.


This work provides quantitative data on practitioner reactions to several specific criminal offenses for a specific job context. By considering differences among offenses and among gatekeepers, rather than among applicants, it identifies challenges to fair implementation of background checks during the hiring process.



This research was supported by an Adverse Impact Reduction Research Initiative and Action (AIRRIA) grant from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.


Kuhn, K.M. (2019), "Is it disqualifying? Practitioner responses to criminal offenses in hiring decisions", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 38 No. 5, pp. 547-563.



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