You might find it hard to get a new job if you have a criminal record, as an estimated 65 million Americans do. Surveys show that a majority of employers – 92%, according to one survey – run a criminal background check when hiring for some or all positions. If you have a history of arrests or convictions, it might put you out of the running for these jobs, especially in the current economic climate.
There are some legal protections for job seekers with criminal records. Federal law and the laws of many states place some limits on how employers can use these records in making job decisions. Texas has not legislated in this area for private employers, however.
There are two federal laws that provide limited protection to applicants with criminal records.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment, including screening practices and hiring. Title VII protects employees and applicants from policies or practices that disproportionately screen out members of a particular race, ethnicity, or other protected class.
Because arrest and incarceration rates are so much 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.
The federal agency that enforces Title VII, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), has issued guidance for employers, explaining how they can screen out applicants who might be dangerous or pose a safety risk without engaging in discrimination. In deciding whether a particular offense should be disqualifying, employers must consider:
According to the EEOC, 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 Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) addresses the issue of accuracy in consumer reports, including background checks.
Records generated by criminal background check firms may include errors, such as information on convictions that have been expunged, multiple listings of the same offense, misclassification of crimes, incomplete information (for example, failing to report that the person was exonerated of a crime or that charges were dropped), and even records that belong to another person with the same name.
The FCRA imposes responsibilities both on employers who request criminal background checks and on the firms that provide them. Employers must:
The firms that provide background checks must take reasonable steps to make sure that the information they provide is accurate and up to date. If you dispute what's in the report, the agency must conduct a reasonable investigation.
If the investigation reveals that the report was incorrect, the agency must inform you and any other person or company to whom it has provided the report.
States take a variety of approaches in limiting employer use of criminal records in hiring and other employment decisions. Some states have passed laws restricting how employers may use an applicant's criminal record in making job decisions.
Other states require employers to consider whether the offense bears a reasonable relationship to the job. And, a growing number of states prohibit employers from asking about arrest records. Here are the rules in Texas.
Texas has created a couple of limited restrictions on the use of criminal records in the hiring process.
In Texas, if a position pays $75,000 or less per year, criminal arrests and convictions that are more than seven years old cannot be included in a consumer report.
However, the seven year time limit does not apply to positions that pay more than $75,000 per year or to certain safety-sensitive positions.
When asked about criminal arrests and convictions, Texas law also allows applicants to deny the existence of any criminal records that have been expunged by a court order. Texas law lists several situations in which a criminal record may be expunged.
For example, an arrest record may be expunged if the person is subsequently acquitted of the offense or if the offense is pardoned following a conviction.
In most cases a criminal background check in Texas takes from one to three business days.
If you have an old conviction that you would like to have expunged, your best bet is to contact a criminal defense attorney. If you think your employer or a prospective employer conducted an illegal background check, contact an employment attorney to discuss your legal options.