For the estimated one in four Americans with a criminal record, job hunting can be difficult. Surveys consistently show that a majority of employers – a whopping 92%, according to one survey – perform criminal background checks when hiring, at least for certain positions. If your check reveals arrests or convictions, you might find it tough to compete in the job market.
However, there are some legal protections for job seekers with criminal records. Federal and state laws place some limits on how employers can use these records in making job decisions. As explained below, however, Alabama is one of the small number of states that has not legislated in this area.
There are two federal laws that give some protection to applicants with criminal records. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) addresses the problem of accuracy. Criminal background checks may include errors, such as information on convictions that have been expunged, misclassification of crimes, 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), and even records that belong to another person with the same name.
The FCRA imposes obligations both on employers who request criminal background checks and on the firms that provide them. Employers must:
Firms that provide background checks must take reasonable steps to make sure that the information they provide is current and accurate. 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.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects applicants and employees from discrimination in every aspect of employment, including screening practices and hiring. 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 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance for employers, explaining how they can screen out applicants who criminal records pose an unreasonable risk without discriminating. Employers who conduct criminal background checks must consider the type of offense, how serious it was, how long ago it was committed, and the nature of the job (including how much supervision the employee will have and how much the employee will be required to interact with others) in deciding whether a particular offense is disqualifying. And, the EEOC 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.
Some states have passed laws restricting how employers may use an applicant’s criminal record in making job decisions. Some states prohibit employers from asking about arrest records or records that have been sealed or expunged. Some states require employers to consider whether the offense bears a reasonable relationship to the job. Some states prohibit employers from considering older offenses. And, some states provide guidance to employers on what they should and should not ask about criminal records in interviews.
Alabama is one of a handful of states that has no laws or guidance on employer use of criminal records in hiring or other employment decisions. If an Alabama employer turns you down for a job based on your criminal record, you will have to rely on the federal laws described above for recourse.