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Will my criminal record keep me from getting a job?

The first step is to get an official record from your state with the description of the offense/s, dates and other information. Sometimes an individual will expect that something “damaging” is in their record, when in fact, it is not.  Each person must know how their offenses are classified, e.g. misdemeanor, felony etc., and which offenses show up in their records as an adult. Every state has a criminal justice information service that processes requests for information. To see an example of this, check out Massachusetts’s CORI page.

Once you have a copy of the criminal record, the next thing is to see if any of the record can be expunged or “closed”.  At least 13 states have laws which allow for low level offenses to be expunged after a specific period of time. Serious crimes are not likely to be expunged. Each state has its own rules about expunging records, but some factors that may come into play include:

  • If there was an actual conviction
  • If the crime was not severe
  • Length of time since arrest or conviction
  • Whether terms of the sentence, probation or diversion were completed
  • Whether there were other convictions in the past.

With written documentation of your actual record, you can  examine what the impact on employment might be.  Most states do allow employers to use criminal records when making hiring decisions – but not usually across the board.  In other words, there must be evidence showing that the employer’s policy is reasonably related to the job requirements. For example, if the criminal offenses were related to violent or aggressive behavior, you may not be eligible for jobs in human services. The job seeker is wise to seek advice from professionals before embarking on job hunting. (Rosen)

Often employers are conducting criminal background checks when hiring job applicants, which can make it much more difficult for those with criminal records to achieve jobs. Most states allow employers to refuse to hire people with criminal records, not just those convicted but even sometimes those who were arrested but never convicted. Sometimes a vocational rehabilitation program that is working with you has employer relationships that can open doors or help provide solutions such as waivers. For some people, self-employment may help avoid issues with traditional employers.

Resources on criminal records

Your Rights – Criminal Records: This webpage features common questions and definitions related to employment with a criminal record.

Standards for Hiring People with Criminal Records: Explore this page to learn more about standards as well as summaries of state laws regarding criminal records.

National H.I.R.E. Network:  This organization helps people with criminal records re-enter the workforce. It serves both as a national clearinghouse for information & an advocate for policy change.


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