An estimated 65 million Americans have a criminal record. That’s about one out of every four people of working age. If you are one of them, you might be in for a difficult job search. Surveys show that a majority of employers – 92%, according to one recent survey – check criminal records when hiring for some or all jobs. If a prospective employer finds out that you have an arrest or conviction record, you might find it difficult to get work, especially in the current economic climate.
Job seekers with criminal records have some legal rights, however. Federal and state laws place some limits on how employers can use these records in making job decisions. Oregon law gives applicants a number of protections in this situation, too.
There are two federal laws that provide some protections for applicants with criminal records. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in hiring; the Fair Credit Reporting Act addresses the issue of accuracy of criminal background checks.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in every aspect of employment, including screening practices and hiring. Because arrest and incarceration rates are higher for African Americans and Latinos, an employer that adopts a blanket policy of excluding all applicants with a criminal record might be guilty of race discrimination, even if that is not the employer’s intent.
The federal agency that enforces Title VII – the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) -- has issued guidance explaining how employers can screen out applicants whose criminal records pose an unreasonable risk without engaging in discrimination. In deciding whether a particular offense should be disqualifying, employers must consider:
The EEOC also has said that employers should give applicants with a record an opportunity to explain the circumstances and provide mitigating information showing that the employee should not be excluded based on the offense.
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) addresses the issue of inaccurate criminal records. Criminal background checks may include errors, such as information on convictions that have been expunged, multiple listings of the same offense, incomplete information (for example, failing to report that the person was exonerated of a crime or that charges were dropped), misclassification of crimes, and even records that belong to someone else entirely.
The FCRA imposes obligations on employers who request criminal background checks and on the firms that provide them. Employers must:
The FCRA also imposes obligations on firms that run background checks for employers. They must take reasonable steps to make sure that the information they provide is accurate and up to date. If an applicant disputes the contents of the report, the agency must conduct a reasonable investigation. If the investigation reveals that the report was incorrect, the agency must inform the applicant and any other person or company to whom it has provided the report.
Before requesting criminal record information on an applicant, the employer must notify the applicant and must tell the state police department when and where the applicant was notified. Once the police department receives a request for records, it must notify the applicant that such a request has been submitted and give the applicant a copy of all information that will be sent to the employer. This notice must include protections under federal civil rights law and the procedure for challenging information in the record. The department may not send the applicant’s criminal record to the employer until 14 days after sending the applicant this notice. This record can include information on arrests, as long as they occurred within the past year and have not resulted in dismissal or acquittal.
Oregon law prohibits employers from discriminating against an applicant or employee on the basis of an expunged juvenile record, unless the decision is based on a bona fide occupational qualification that’s reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the employer’s business.