Team Building: Providing Second Chances When Hiring - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Team Building: Providing Second Chances When Hiring

When you make a mistake, it’s always a good feeling when someone gives you a second chance to do better.

The same can be said for individuals with a criminal record or a past of substance abuse. While some employers will automatically turn down job applicants who have made these mistakes in the past, some landscaping companies have decided to provide a second chance to these new hires.

Anne Campbell, owner/operations manager of Colorado Stoneworks Landscaping, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, says they have been hiring individuals with criminal charges or a history of substance abuse for almost 13 years of their 15 years in business.

“To be honest, the first hire of someone with a criminal background was done, not by mistake per say, but by accident,” Campbell says. “We were early in our business and for the first couple of years, we only hired people we knew personally. When we first hired outside of our circle, we did so out of necessity and it was an urgent situation.”

She says they interviewed one person for the job and he had the necessary skills and experience so they hired him right away. He fit in immediately and did an excellent job. It wasn’t until later on she learned of his background.

“If I had done a background check first, I often wonder if that would have clouded my view of the prospective employee and I’m not sure I would have given him a chance at that time,” Campbell says. “I learned a lot through getting to know him and his life story. We all make mistakes at some point and some of those mistakes have bigger consequences than others. I know that I am not the same person I was when I was in my late teens or early 20s and neither was he. He really taught me that people deserve a second chance and when given the opportunity, those individuals can and will excel.”

Cory Owens, COO and co-owner of Buddy’s Services, LLC, based in Calabash, North Carolina, and Alyssa Sprague, owner and landscape designer of 2 Lawn Guys And a Lady, based in Merced, California, both say they’ve been hiring individuals with criminal records and/or a history of substance abuse for several years.

Owens says they were previously vigilant about not hiring these types of people in the beginning due to his own personal experience with addiction.

“I was an addict for about 12 years and it completely turned me into somebody I didn’t know, somebody I’ve never wanted to be,” Owens says. “I did things that I’ve never thought imaginable for me to do.”

He says now they don’t like to categorize people but accommodate them.

“You just got to be careful of the environments you put them in,” Owens says. “I know for me, in my recovery and most for people, people, places and things are everything. If you maintain and form a positive culture in the workforce, it’s going to be a good place to work.”

Sprague also personally struggled with substance abuse and addiction in the past. While she didn’t have any serious adverse consequences in her professional career, she did watch her husband struggle to secure steady employment because of his criminal record.

“While many companies say they are willing to hire individuals with a criminal record, a lot of times what prevents these individuals from getting hired isn’t necessarily the fact that they have a criminal record per se, but rather their lack of previous employment or significant gaps in their employment history,” Sprague says.

The Importance of a Second Chance

Owens understands a lot of people are gun-shy about hiring people with a past when they might have been burned by an ex-drug addict or convict in some way.

“The lack of knowledge produces a lower respect for those people like they’re less than,” Owens says. “We built this company as a partnership, as equals.”

Campbell adds that everyone needs an income to support themselves and those who can’t find legal employment will seek income elsewhere.

“Individuals with a criminal background have done the time required by their sentence and paid the dues for their transgression,” Campbell says. “For individuals with a criminal background or history of substance abuse, routine is essential to their freedom and/or sobriety. A steady job is often the first step towards recovery and/or independence.”

Sprague says with the opioid crisis, it’s likely that most people know someone affected by addiction in one way or another. She says society still has a hard time fully accepting that addiction is a chronic disease, rather than a character defect.

“Just like any other chronic health condition, it requires rehabilitation and ongoing treatment — and an individual can go into remission,” Sprague says. “Once a person is undergoing treatment, or has served their time, and has been rehabilitated back into society, then I think they have just as much to offer in terms of being a quality employee as anyone else.”  

Having a job can help provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment and provides a path to a better life for these individuals as well.

“If it wasn’t for second chances, I wouldn’t be here,” Owens says.

Who To Hire  

If you are considering offering second chances to people with a criminal record or a past of addiction, decide what criminal charges, if any, you and your team will not consider hiring. For Campbell, they will not hire sex offenders or repeat offenders.

“Repeat offenders have obviously not been rehabilitated by the sentence for the first or even second offense, so it indicates that he or she may be set in their ways and may not be as motivated to improve themselves and their situation,” Campbell says.

Sprague doesn’t have any hard and fast rules but looks for honesty and transparency and gives the applicant an opportunity to tell their story.

“I really trust my gut and my intuition and, of course, just my common sense,” Sprague says. “I try to be open-minded but I also have to consider what’s best for my business and for the other employees who already work for me as well.”

Owens says while the majority of their second-chance hires have been drug-related, they have hired people with violent criminal backgrounds.

“We’ve never been crossed with somebody that had such severe charges that we say no,” Owens says.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.