State Laws on Use of Arrests and Convictions in Employment

Does your state allow a prospective employer to ask you about -- or search for -- past arrests and convictions?

There are an estimated 65 million Americans – one in four Americans who are of working age – with some kind of criminal record. A history of arrests and/or convictions can make it very tough to land a job. Why? Because so many employers run criminal background checks when hiring. According to one survey, an incredible 92% of employers check criminal history, at least for some positions.

There are some legal protections for applicants with criminal records. For example, federal law allows applicants an opportunity to see and correct erroneous consumer reports, including criminal background checks. And, although federal law does not explicitly protect applicants from discrimination based on their criminal records, it does protect against discrimination based on race and ethnicity. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that an employer who adopts a blanket policy of excluding all applicants with a criminal record could screen out disproportionate numbers of African Americans and Latinos, which could in turn constitute illegal discrimination. To learn more about these federal protections, see Getting Hired With an Arrest or Conviction Record.

In addition, many state laws provide some protections for applicants with a criminal past. Some states prohibit employers from asking about arrest records, at least if the arrest is no longer pending. Some states allow employers to ask about convictions only if they relate directly to the job, or require employers who consider convictions to take particular facts into account, such as how serious the crime was and whether the applicant has participated in any rehabilitation efforts. To find out whether your state has a law regarding employer use of arrest and conviction records, select it from the list below.

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