my coworker is a registered sex offender

A reader writes:

I inadvertently found out while doing a search of local registered sex offenders in my area that a very friendly and polite older gentlemen who recently began to work at my company is a registered sex offender for possession of child pornography. He admitted his guilt, is on probation, and lost his former job working for the court system, according to a newspaper article I dug up. He’s now using his middle name instead of his first name, but without a doubt is my co-worker. I can’t believe that my company would hire such a person. Our department of 85 are, for the most part, a very family-centered group of proud parents and grandparents that would have this gentlemen’s head if they ever found out.

With all of this said… I honestly don’t think my company knows this information. I work for a very large company that has multiple offices in nearly every state that outsources all preemployment paperwork and background checks to an outside firm on the other side of the U.S. I was hired about three months ago and know for a fact that none of my references or former companies were contacted. (All that was done was a credit check and The Work Number reports.) Is this any of my business or should I just let it go? I believe it’s definitely something that management should know, but I would also never want to begrudge someone the chance to make a living. Do I inform management or keep this information to myself?

I’ve been sitting on this question because I can’t come up with an answer I’m fully comfortable with. Ultimately, I don’t think you should say anything, but I can understand why you’re struggling with this.

On one hand, I firmly believe that refusing to hire people with criminal convictions in their past is a good way to ensure that those people never get assimilated back into society, increasing the chances that they’ll offend again. On the other hand, some crimes say something about someone’s character and judgment, and that doesn’t necessarily change after they’ve served their time. And pedophilia is notorious for being something that doesn’t simply go away after you punish someone for it.  On a third hand, this man’s current job is presumably not one that brings him into contact with children. On a fourth hand, I can totally understand why you and your coworkers would be uncomfortable anyway, especially if there are company picnics that people bring their families to, or if people sometimes bring their kids by the office, and so forth.

If your company does criminal background checks, they presumably know about this man’s past and hired him anyway. It’s possible that they discussed it with him and that conversation was convincing to them that he was safe to hire. It’s also possible that the background check doesn’t include criminal records and so your company’s management doesn’t know anything about it. And it’s also possible that the circumstances of this man’s crime were less than the charge would imply (after all, there are people on the sex offender registry because of sexting they did when they were teenagers; while this guy’s age would seem to preclude that particular explanation, it’s possible there’s another one that would lessen the situation in your mind).

It’s also possible that you live in one of the small number of states that prohibit employers from not hiring someone because of a criminal record unless there’s a direct correlation between the crime and the job.

There are a ton of factors here, but ultimately, unless you have reason to think that someone is in danger, I don’t think it’s your place to say anything. The guy has been dealt with by the criminal justice system and is now trying to resume his life. Until/unless you have reason to think he presents a danger, I wouldn’t interfere. But ugh. This is a tough situation for everyone (including him, I’d imagine), and one where you want everyone involved to keep a cool head.

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