Whole Foods Targets Low-Income Areas with Progressive Background Check Policies

By Michael Klazema on 10/14/2016

Whole Foods, the nation’s largest organic grocer, is aiming to play a new role in the city of Chicago: a proponent of second chances and criminal justice reform. According to a post by Star Parker on, the company is collaborating with the city to help prevent poverty in the area. One of the ways Whole Foods is achieving this goal is by using a progressive employee background check policy that makes it easier for ex-criminal offenders to compete for jobs.

The Whole Foods brand recently opened a new store in the Englewood community area. As Star Parker noted in the report, "we usually think of Whole Foods as expensive upscale organic fare.” The community is known widely as one of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods, with high crime rates, prevalent gang activity, an active drug trade, and plummeting population levels.

According to reports, thanks to an assist from Rahm Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago, Whole Foods was able to build on a $3.1 million vacant Englewood lot almost for free. That incentive paired with tax breaks encouraged Whole Foods to set up shop in Englewood.

According to the report, several of the employees at the new Whole Foods store have "jail or prison records." 35 of them are from Englewood, while 85 are from the broader Chicago South Side—also known for high crime levels. The store has hired over 100 people so far with the majority of hired individuals residing in those surrounding communities, according to reports.

Whole Foods is running background checks on all top candidates. Because Chicago and the state of Illinois have laws banning the box for private employers, the store could not ask about criminal history on its job applications. Instead, Whole Foods is running background checks on applicants who have been deemed hirable. The report says that, in cases where a past offense showed up on a background check report, Whole Foods managers addressed those issues in one-on-one conversations with the applicants. The store has expressed a commitment to getting the applicant's side of the story before taking any action based on a background check report.

The organic foods store is taking similar approaches in other low-income areas including Detroit, New Orleans, and Newark.



Industry News

Tag Cloud
Recent Posts

Latest News

  • March 22 Countrywide, states and local municipalities have committed to ban the box legislation, seeking to equalize opportunities in the job market for those with criminal histories.
  • March 22

    Thinking about becoming a firefighter? Here are some of the background check requirements you might face.

  • March 20

    Four Department of Commerce employees are out after their background checks resulted in security clearance denials. All four had worked high-ranking positions for months despite incomplete background checks.

  • March 15 As more states legalize the recreational use of cannabis, they contend with the emergence of new industries surrounding marijuana cultivation and production. 
  • March 14 In most cases, it is easy to determine where an issue might show up on a pre-employment background check. Citations for traffic violations or reckless driving charges will appear on a motor vehicle record check. Verdicts in a civil court case will show on a civil court background check. And criminal convictions—from petty theft to violent felonies—show up on criminal background checks.
  • March 13 How many years back do employment background checks go? This question can have multiple different answers depending on the situation.
  • March 13 A new bill in Florida would require landlords of apartment complexes to present tenants with verifications of employee background checks to give them peace of mind the people working in and around their homes are trustworthy.
  • March 08 Police officers working with the University of Texas at Arlington recently arrested a man who had avoided police capture on a warrant out of Oregon for nearly two decades. The man, whose real name is Daniel Charles Ray Hanson, spent those 17 years using a variety of fake names and identification documents to move around the country, often engaging with educational institutions under false pretenses. Police say Hanson regularly went by at least three different aliases. He sports a rap sheet that stretches back to an arson conviction in 1995. 
  • March 07

    The Future of EEOC Guidance in Texas Is Up in the Air

    The EEOC issued guidance in 2012 warning employers about the dangers of enforcing categorical policies to bar candidates with criminal histories. That guidance is not enforceable in Texas thanks to a recent court ruling.

  • March 05 Vermont is the latest state to restrict employers’ access to and use of social media accounts of employees and applicants.