State Laws on Use of Arrests and Convictions in Employment

Does your state allow a prospective employer to ask you about your criminal records?

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

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 a job applicant's criminal history, at least for some positions.

There are some legal protections for applicants with criminal records at the federal law. For example, when employers have a third party run background checks, they must obtain the applicant's written consent and take other steps before rejecting an applicant based on the contents of the report. And, according to guidance from the EEOC, an employer that 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.)

However, more specific limits on the use of criminal records in employment come from state laws. Some states prohibit employers from asking about arrests that did not lead to convictions, unless the charges are still pending. Some states allow employers to ask about convictions only if they relate directly to the job, or require employers that 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. And several states now have "ban-the-box" laws, prohibiting employers from asking about any criminal history until after the applicant has an interview or receives a conditional offer of employment.

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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