Guest Editorial: Is It Better to Hire Wokesters or Felons?

By Gene Marks

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, centrist columnist Bari Weiss left her position at The New York Times after alleging she had been bullied by colleagues and 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, these newsrooms were deemed to be unsafe places for their employees because they were forced to work with people with differing views. Imagine how those same employees would feel if their organizations hired someone who had been convicted of committing an actual violent crime.

That’s what’s happening across the country. Because of the dire labor shortage caused by a perfect storm of government entitlements, higher savings and a 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? They can hire unsafe people.

In California, the practice of hiring ex-felons has built a workforce at a rubber recycling company in which about half of the 65 employees have served prison time. “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 willing to hire people with a criminal past. A man who spent 33 years in prison for robbery and murder recently celebrated a work anniversary with a manufacturer in Cincinnati. The CEO of JPMorgan Chase started a coalition aimed at hiring ex-cons. There’s even a federal tax credit that rewards employers for hiring ex-convicts.

Even before the pandemic, the Society for Human Resource Management and the Charles Koch Institute found that employers were widening their employee searches 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, with more than 28 percent of respondents even willing to hire those with prior records of violent crimes. Good for them. People can be rehabilitated.

But what about safety? This is a world in which employees can get seasoned journalists fired because they feel threatened by existing in the same “virtual space.” This is a world in which an off-hand comment or an overly friendly hug can supposedly create an “unsafe space” and lead to accusations of harassment. This is a world in which some employees feel threatened when a co-worker has a different political view or doesn’t believe in climate change.

So how can these workers, so afraid for their safety, cope with colleagues who killed or raped someone? We are about to find out, because those workers are being replaced by those very people. This is what happens when you get involved in a company’s employment practices.

Difficult times require difficult decisions. Many of my clients would be 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.

Let’s relax rules around drug use and prior convictions if it means getting hard workers.

This column was originally published in The Hill. Gene Marks is founder of The Marks Group, a small-business consulting firm. He frequently appears on CNBC, Fox Business and MSNBC. He will speak at our Marketing & Distribution Convention on Nov. 3.