Convicted felons looking for work typically have a hard road ahead of them. Federal and state laws may prohibit them from working in certain industries or may prevent them from being able to obtain a license to work in others. Understanding the employment rights of convicted felons can make it easier to find a job or to determine whether or not the employer is utilizing discriminatory hiring practices.
The Federal Government’s Stance
U.S. discrimination laws are administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the EEOC claims that it is unlawful for employers to habitually refuse employment to felons whose criminal act is in no way related to the applied for job. In other words, an employer would be well within their rights to refuse to hire someone convicted of child abuse as a schoolteacher, but that guideline may not apply if the felon applies for a job as a paralegal. Moreover, employers using overly broad rules to avoid hiring felons may be in violation of the law.
Statutes at the state level vary. Within the Fair Credit Reporting Act, employers are allowed to use an applicant’s criminal history when making hiring decisions. However, each state sets guidelines for which information is made available to employers. Some states allow employers to utilize arrest records even if it did not result in a conviction. Other states only allow employers to make hiring decisions based on convictions while arrests without convictions must be overlooked.
Some states require that employers weigh other factors. Often, a conviction that occurred many years ago should not be allowed to figure as heavily on a hiring decision as a conviction that happened in the recent past. Also, the employer sometimes must consider the seriousness of the crime committed and whether or not it has any relation to the job.
Some jobs that require a license such as teachers, lawyers and doctors, may be forbidden to felons. However, it is possible to find exceptions. Some felons have also been able to obtain employment in these fields and others through obtaining a pardon. Pardons are granted at the state level by the governor while federal crimes must be pardoned by the president. Going through the process of obtaining a pardon can be lengthy and difficult, but it may be worthwhile for the rehabilitated felon seeking employment.