Know Your Rights When Job Searching With A Criminal Record

One in four people of working age in the United States has a criminal record.  That means that one in four Americans may have questions concerning criminal background checks, especially those who are looking for a job. Here's how your record may affect your job search and what rights you retain.

Am I More Likely to Be Passed Up for a Job? First and foremost, you're likely concerned about how having a criminal record might impact your chances of getting hired. Some good news comes from a survey that CareerBuilder conducted in 2012: results found that 51% of organizations surveyed have hired someone with a criminal record.

However, federal law does not protect you from hiring discrimination based on your criminal record. But some states do have laws that determine what information a potential employer can obtain, which could help you in your search.

What Information Can an Employer Legally Obtain? What your potential employer is allowed to find out or use in their hiring process varies from state to state. Protected information may include arrests, convictions from over seven years ago, crimes committed as a juvenile, or any sealed or expunged records. Some states allow potential employers to access these records if the crimes are relevant to the job. Some states only allow this if the job is of a sensitive nature, particularly positions involving nursing, child care, or positions requiring a license. Check your state for specifics.

In some states, it's illegal for an employer to ask if you've ever been arrested but not convicted of a crime. In other states, an employer is not prohibited from directly asking about your arrest history, and an application may ask if you've ever been arrested or ever been convicted of a felony. In this case , you may choose to either answer these questions truthfully or defer. In some states, if your record has been sealed or expunged, you may legally answer "no" when asked if you've ever been convicted of a crime.

If an employer wants to seek further information, they may ask for your written consent to obtain this information.

When Does an Employer Need My Written Consent? Criminal records are not public. An employer must follow state guidelines for accessing this information; otherwise, they may ask you to provide written consent if they want to obtain your criminal record. You don't legally have to allow an employer to obtain this information, but a company does have the right to not hire you for failure to comply.

Some criminal background checks are not done by the company itself. They're run by a third party, such as Background Investigations Inc, either a firm that specializes in criminal background checks or even a private investigator. In this instance, regardless of state law, the company must have your written consent for the third party to run the background check.

It's possible that having a criminal record can make it more difficult to find employment. However, some state laws are designed to help you during your job search. Know when you are and are not legally required to disclose information. Keep in mind the 51% of companies that have hired someone with a criminal record, and good luck in your search.