I Have a Criminal Record. Does That Mean I Won’t Pass a Background Check?

Imagine we’re holding a winning Powerball ticket worth $100 million. But in order to claim it, you need to answer this question correctly:

How many American adults have a criminal record?

Is it:

a) 7%

b) 18%

c) 30%

If you guessed ‘c,’ then winner winner chicken dinner. That figure may not be telling the whole story, though.

The most cited statistic reports that about 1 in 3 American adults has a criminal record. That stat, however, often includes “anyone who has been arrested or taken into custody by police, regardless of whether the charges were ultimately dropped. By that definition, many people who have never been convicted of a crime have a criminal history.”

This certainly affects a person’s ability to land a job. In fact, a criminal record, even an offense that happened four decades ago, can still prevent you from getting hired. There is some traction to help offenders get their feet in the door, though. Check out this ActiveCare post on Ban The Box, a movement to eliminate questions about criminal histories on job applications.

With all of that uncertainty out there, it can be confusing, intimidating and frustrating for folks with criminal records to apply for jobs. It can also be confusing, intimidating and frustrating for employers who hire, or who want to hire, an ex-offender.

We turned to the National Association of Professional Background Screeners – of which Active Screening is an accredited member – for some answers to commonly asked questions about finding a job if you have a criminal record.

Question: I was convicted of an offense many years ago; will that show up on my background check?

It depends. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) allows criminal convictions to be reported without limitation. That means if you were convicted of a crime, that record can be reported to employers under federal law, regardless of the age of the conviction. There are, of course, exceptions to the general rule that convictions are reportable regardless of age, exceptions include:

  • A few states have laws that limit the reporting of conviction information to a specified number of years. Assuming the state law was passed and effective prior to the provision of the FCRA which addresses reporting criminal convictions, the state law would supersede federal law and older convictions would not be reported.
  • Some employers may request only a specified number of years be included in the reports prepared for them (though it cannot be less restrictive than the FCRA).
  • Court records may be limited based on the court’s archiving/retention practices
  • Non-conviction information may only be reported within the most recent seven years (state laws vary on what may be considered non-conviction information).

Question: I have a criminal record; does that mean I won’t get the job?

Not necessarily. Employers consider various factors when evaluating candidates for employment and/or promotion. One such factor may be criminal history. When considering criminal history information, employers often look at the incident itself, the severity of the incident, the length of time elapsed since the incident occurred, relevance to the position sought, as well as whether the candidate misrepresented his/her criminal history upon request.

In many industries, though, a criminal record would preclude you from certain positions. Industries like security/policing, finance, healthcare, teaching, or childcare almost uniformly don’t allow ex-offenders to join their ranks.

Question: Do pending charges show up on a background check?

If an employer is requesting a criminal background check, the short answer is yes, with exception to a few states that have laws prohibiting such reports. Pending cases will often be displayed on a court’s public access system or index along with other cases that are disposed or finished. At Active Screening, we report all court records that show on the public access system AND that fall within the reporting guidelines set forth in the FCRA and some individual state’s FCRA guidelines too. Our compliance team, led by Benton Mobley (you can read his expert profile here), regularly updates and relies on a document called the Scope of Reportable Records that highlights the strict reporting guidelines the Active Screening compliance and research teams adhere to.

What questions about criminal background checks would you like us to answer? Leave a comment below or Tweet us here!

At Active Screening, it’s our mission to help you hire smarter. Help us lead the charge by sharing this post!

This entry was posted in Background Screening, Criminal Records, General, Human Resources, News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , by Patricia Carlson. Bookmark the permalink.

Patricia Carlson is a content writer who specializes in B2C and B2B inbound marketing. She blogs regularly for clients about the background screening and finance industries, and generates newsletters, white papers and email campaigns for a variety of businesses. Patricia also produces a heavy rotation of editorial material for home design, law enforcement, and family magazines. She’s been writing professionally for more than a dozen years, and for Active Screening for more than two of those. Check out LinkedIn for a roster of Patricia's clients and links to published works. When she’s not interviewing sources or researching trends, she’s living a fast-paced Florida life questioning the antics of her two young children, partner and mischievous cat. Patricia loves to talk tennis and TV on Twitter - give her a shout @pattycfreelance.
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