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The Evolution of Criminal Background Questions on Job Applications

job application

This week, Target announced that it will stop asking questions about criminal history on job application forms. The act is meant to encourage more ex-offenders to apply for work and better re-integrate into society after doing time in prison.

Though they will be eliminating the question on applications, the company will still perform private background checks on potential employees.

Evolution of Criminal Background Questions on Job Applications 

This is certainly a step forward for ex-convicts. Over recent years we have seen questions regarding criminal history evolve in a way that was more detrimental than helpful. Many years ago it was typical to see the "criminal question" phrased something like: 

"Have you ever been convicted of a felony, and if so, please explain the circumstances."

The phrasing of this question meant that if you had been arrested, charged, or convicted of any crime that was a misdemeanor, you would be able to truthfully answer no.

The next evolution of this question was made to be more specific. Here's an example: 

"Have you ever ben convicted of any crime, misdemeanor or felony, and if so please explain."

This was meant to widen the net, so to speak. You would now have to disclose any crime that you had been convicted of from the more serious charges that are associated with a felony, as well as less serious crimes such as disorderly conduct. If any individual was convicted of a crime, a misdemeanor or a felony, and failed to disclose it on their application, they would have falsified their application, which for many employers, is a reason to disregard the application. Because you would technically have falsified your application, it is unlikely that you would have any legal basis for discrimination based on your criminal history.

The question has continued to evolve and its current form resembles something like this:

"Have you ever been charged or convicted of any crime, misdemeanor or felony, and if so please explain."

The new format now includes charges as well as convictions. This impacts many more individuals, not just those who have pending cases, but also those who were charged with a crime that may have eventually been reduced to a city ordinance, or those who had their charges dismissed entirely.

How to Answer these Questions

Our office has taken many calls about this issue. If an application asks if you have been convicted of a crime and you do not disclose it, and are eventually hired, they would have grounds to terminate your employment, if it later came to their attention. If you are filling out a job application, it is best to be up front and honest about it.

Criminal Background Checks

We are also frequently asked about background checks being preformed before individuals are hired. Background checks have no universal standard. For some employers, this may mean checking the Circuit Court's website and looking to see if you have any convictions and if so what they are and what sentence was received. This type of "background check" is more common to smaller, non-franchise establishments, and those with fewer hiring qualifications.

In jobs in which there is industry regulation, such as a position at a bank, a hospital, the government, or a union, it is much more common that a background check may be done by private companies that preform much more detailed background checks. In cases where an individual must be licensed, such as positions in the medical, legal, and certain financial sectors, in-depth background checks are fairly standard and will most likely turn up any past convictions.

How an Attorney can Help

Having a criminal record can make it more challenging to find employment. If you are charged with a crime, or are going to be charged with a crime, it is best to contact a defense attorney as soon as possible. In some cases there is a chance that an attorney can prevent you from being charged. If they are not able to do so, there are types of cases and circumstances in which a defense attorney may be able to have your record expunged.   



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