Many employers ask applicants to disclose information about their criminal backgrounds before they are hired. While so-called “Ban the Box” laws have successfully stopped employers in many states from asking questions about an applicant’s criminal background on the initial employment application, at some point in the hiring process virtually all employers can, and will, demand information about an applicant’s criminal background. In responding to such questions, it is important to heed several guidelines:
1. Tell the truth.
While it is tempting to minimize, or ignore, your criminal background in order to get a job, this strategy is very risky and rarely works. The vast majority of employers do criminal background checks, and such checks will frequently reveal the truth about your record. Even if your background itself would not have disqualified you, your failure to disclose your history accurately might. So, it is best to provide truthful and accurate information in response to questions about your criminal background. Many applicants think that employers cannot learn about convictions that are more than seven years old. This is a myth. Convictions can be reported forever, so if you fail to disclose something because it is old you may be getting yourself into trouble.
2. Only answer the question asked. Some employers ask only about convictions, while others ask about criminal charges or cases that resulted in other dispositions.
While it is important that you are truthful with a prospective employer, there is no reason to over-disclose. If you have received a pardon, had your record expunged, or received a deferred adjudication or other kind of diversionary sentence, you should seek legal guidance on the extent to which you have to disclose your criminal background. In many jurisdictions, job applicants are entitled to answer “no” to the question of whether they have any convictions if the conviction was subsequently expunged.
3. Take the opportunity to explain your criminal background, why it won’t affect your ability to do the job, and what steps you have taken since your conviction.
The EEOC’s guidance requires employers to look at each applicant as an individual. This means that before you begin the job application process, you should spend some time drafting a letter to prospective employers that you can use to explain the nature of your criminal background. There is no reason to allow your conviction history to define you. While most employers would generally not react well to an applicant who continued to deny responsibility for a criminal act resulting in a conviction, many employers would be interested to hear about why an applicant’s criminal background is not as bad as it seems, would not affect the applicant’s ability to do the job, or is not indicative of the kind of person they are now. Information on any rehabilitative efforts you have made is tremendously valuable, so if you have gone to treatment or counseling, those facts might be worth disclosing as well.