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How This Startup, Along With Dropbox and Facebook, Is Lowering Barriers to Entry for People With Criminal Records

Tech-enabled background check company Checkr has vowed that 5 percent of its workforce will be ex-offenders.

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BY Leigh Buchanan - 31 May 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

For the founder of a hot San Francisco startup with $150 million in venture funding, Daniel Yanisse has an unusual goal: By the end of this year, he wants 5 percent of his workforce to be ex-offenders.

When Yanisse launched his tech-enabled background-check company Checkr in 2014, all he knew about criminal records was that clients didn't like them. Back then, Yanisse and his team spoke on the phone to job applicants, and "we heard hundreds of stories about people who committed very minor crimes 20 years ago and were trying to get a new start," says Yanisse. "They were being rejected for the wrong things."

Yanisse is not alone in thinking differently about the 70 million American adults with criminal records. More than 150 U.S. cities and counties have banned companies from asking job applicants about previous criminal convictions, according to the National Employment Law Project. In 2015, Under Armour, Dropbox, Facebook, and other large companies signed the Fair Chance Business Pledge to lower barriers to employment for people with criminal records, as did dozens of smaller employers. Y Combinator recently hatched 70 Million Jobs, a recruitment site for former inmates.

Yanisse began reaching out to ex-offenders through reentry programs such as Defy Ventures and the Last Mile. The company now considers applicants on a case-by-case basis, conducting in-depth interviews to understand the story behind each crime and the extent of rehabilitation. "We don't have rules about the type of offenses that would automatically disqualify someone," says Yanisse. Instead, he follows guidelines laid out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which asks companies to consider the nature and gravity of the offense, how long ago the crime took place, and whether it relates to the position being applied for. So, for example, as a background check company, Checkr would likely not hire someone convicted of identity theft.

While manual work in restaurant kitchens or warehouses is more common for ex-inmates, Checkr has placed recruits in customer service and operations positions and expects to add some to sales. Yanisse--who is now helping clients including DoorDash and Crisis Text Line do the same--typically starts the ex-offender in a temporary work program, where he or she serves in a paid, internship-like job, while management evaluates performance.

One Checkr employee, who asked not to be identified, got out of state prison just over a year ago after serving 13 years. He now works with job applicants who are going through background checks. "One thing I like about this place is that they didn't make me feel like I was an outsider or an experiment," says the employee, who previously had hesitated to seek a new job because he feared rejection. "It was just, 'We accept you. We believe in you. We want to watch you grow.' "

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