Everybody has a past. If yours is a matter of court record, however, you may find it difficult to negotiate job interviews. There is a fine line between disclosing what you must to be honest and saying too much and hurting your chances of getting the job.
A job interview is all about your past, so it is impossible to avoid the subject altogether. However, using the interview to demonstrate how the facts of your past led you to get on a better career path is the key to obtaining a job if you have a criminal history.
If you are concerned about getting a job with your arrest record, you are not alone. By the time of their 23rd birthdays, almost one-third of Americans have been arrested, according to a 2009 study. Getting a job with an arrest record can be difficult, and a lack of stable employment is an important predictor of re-entry into the criminal justice system. Success in finding and keeping a job is the key to breaking this cycle.
A majority of the arrests are for nonviolent, minor offenses. In 2009, nearly 14 million adults were arrested, but only 4% of them were for violent crimes. Here is a breakdown of the arrest statistics from that year:
12% – drug offenses
18% – property crimes
10% – simple assault— no weapon or serious injury
56% – other offenses
Based on these statistics, it is easy to conclude that most people with an arrest record do not pose an ongoing threat to society. In fact, at least one-third of them are never convicted, but they are considered to have a criminal history because of their arrest.
There are two federal laws that protect the rights of job-seekers with criminal records. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to deal with the broader issue of discrimination, but it includes some provisions to limit the use of criminal records by employers. The legislation established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a body which continues to monitor discriminatory employment practices.
There are a number of sources of criminal history records, including:
Courthouses in various jurisdictions
Police and correctional departments
State criminal records
The EEOC recognizes that state and federal criminal records are sometimes incomplete. They also have documentation of the fact that criminal records may be inaccurate since multiple and sometimes overlapping jurisdictions maintain records. That means employers should not rely solely on background checks in making important hiring decisions. However, the EEOC estimates that 92% of employers perform background checks on some or all of their employees.
The Civil Rights Act establishes that employers may use criminal background history in hiring decisions when the information is related to the job in question and necessary for the business. Over the years, this standard has been interpreted a number of times by different courts and clarified. The underlying intent is presumed to prohibit an employer from using criminal history information to disqualify a person completely from employment. Rather, the employer should focus on the specific qualifications for the job and whether hiring someone with a criminal background would prevent the person from doing that job successfully or might open the company up to financial or physical harm.
Employers are guided to use specific information to avoid hiring people who would present a danger to their business. By looking at the nature and gravity of the crime committed, the length of time since the offense, and nature of the job to be performed, employers can legally exclude people with certain criminal history from particular types of jobs.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) also provides some oversight for employers using background check information in hiring decisions. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through the Fair Credit Reporting Act, attempts to address issues of accuracy, relevance, confidentiality and proper use of consumer information released by reporting agencies.
Common types of errors in background check information include:
Misclassification of crimes
Records from another person with the same name
Multiple reporting of the same offense
Once erroneous information is reported to an employer, it can be difficult to erase the resulting discrimination. The FRCA makes reporting agencies and employers responsible for the accurate reporting and proper use of background check information. Under FRCA, employers must get written consent from you to order a background check. They must also notify you if they plan to use the results of a background check as a reason to disqualify you from employment. They are also required to give you a copy of the report they obtained if it contains information they find objectionable for your employment.
Beyond these two federal rules, many states impose their own restrictions on an employer’s ability to use a background check to screen out applicants. In the state of Texas, there are just a couple additional provisions in place:
Criminal arrests or convictions that are more than seven years old cannot be held against you by a prospective employer if the job you are seeking pays $75,000 or less. For jobs paying more than $75,000, these older convictions may still be considered. The seven-year exemption also applies to certain jobs with specific safety concerns.
The state of Texas does not require you to disclose any criminal records that were expunged. If they were expunged due to acquittal, pardon or any other legal reason, your prior arrests and convictions do not exist for matters of employment.
Job Application: Criminal History Question
The first step in filling out a job application if you have a criminal history is to know your details. There is a difference between an arrest record and a criminal record, so be sure you understand what your criminal history shows. Also, the date of your last arrest or conviction could make a difference as to whether you have to disclose your record or not. Know your dates and dispositions before beginning the application.
Assume that any employment application will ask at least one question about criminal history, and be prepared with all of your information. Before disclosing anything, though, read the question carefully. Is it asking about arrest records, convictions, misdemeanors or felonies? It is important to understand these distinctions and how they apply to you.
When you are sure you understand what the question is asking, give only the information requested. If it is a simple yes or no question, do not elaborate. If the question only asks about felonies, do not consider your other offenses when answering. You want to give a truthful answer, but there is no need to give any more information than the question asks.
You should always assume your answer to the criminal history question will be verified by a background check. Any discrepancy between your answer and what the background report reveals will be considered a lie and a barrier to employment. Never assume you will be better off not admitting you have a criminal history. Many times, a criminal record can be overcome by other aspects of the employment application. A lie is almost certain to exclude you from qualification.
Finally, use the space given to explain your answer. Most criminal history questions on employment applications offer space to explain if you indeed have a criminal history. Use this space to qualify your answer by giving important details about how long ago — especially if it was more than seven years — your arrest was. This is also the place to tell if you were acquitted or if the charges were dropped. If you were convicted, be sure to mention that you fully paid the penalty and have never been arrested since. Any details that can put your criminal history in the past and show it is not part of your current lifestyle will help.