Employment Rights of Convicted Felons


Convicted felons have limited rights relative to employment. Private employers and government agencies can inquire into a job applicant's criminal record, conduct criminal background checks and take information relative to a felony conviction into consideration. However, convicted felons do have a right to ensure that prospective employers follow Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines in weighing the relationship between the conviction and necessary job qualifications.

EEOC Guidelines

  • The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Compliance Manual advises that employers cannot enact a "blanket exclusion of persons convicted of any crime." Employers can reject an applicant with a criminal conviction if the employer can demonstrate that the reason was "job related." EEOC Guidelines require employers to consider three factors: the nature and seriousness of the crime, how long it has been since the conviction and the type of job at stake. For example, a bank could legally reject an applicant with a robbery or forgery conviction, because these convictions are specifically tied to job requirements.

Military and Law Enforcement

  • No one with a felony conviction can serve in the armed forces, absent a rarely-granted waiver from the Secretary of Defense. Law enforcement agencies also prohibit hiring most convicted felons, not only on the basis that conviction for any crime is job-related to law enforcement, but also because most convicted felons are prohibited from possessing firearms, which is a mandatory requirement of these positions. Convicted felons maintain a right to appropriate notice of termination as well as a hearing on any errors, and payment of any outstanding wages or benefits owing in accordance with the employer's guidelines.

Professional Licenses

  • Most federal and state licenses, including railroad operators, pilots, architects, attorneys, barbers, pawn brokers, dentists, hearing aid dealers, and hundreds more, require background checks before issuance. By statute, some convictions result in immediate disqualification for receiving or continuing to hold some of these licenses. In other cases, licensing boards may consider the fact of conviction in accordance with EEOC guidelines. Convicted felons have a right to be heard before a professional license is terminated.


  • Background checks are lawfully performed on nearly every federal and state contract services provider, from defense contractors to persons providing janitorial services at public facilities. By statute or regulation, many types of convictions bar a convicted felon from obtaining or keeping public contract work. Convicted felons do have a right to hearing before termination from contract employment, and may challenge errors in the background check.

Grants and Loans

  • A felony drug conviction while receiving federal student aid precludes eligibility for additional federal education grants and loans. Sentencing courts also have the discretion to preclude a person convicted of any drug felony from eligibility for all federal grants and loans, including business start-up funding or monies for research or nonprofit activities. The convicted felon does not have a right to any separate hearing other than the sentencing hearing regarding this preclusion.

Private Employment

  • A large percentage of private employers undertake background checks of prospective employees, and can refuse to hire those with criminal convictions, provided they comply with EEOC guidelines regarding consideration of those convictions. State and federal statutes preclude persons with certain convictions from working in specific fields. For example, convicted sex offenders cannot be employed in any educational or child care setting.

Notice of Reasons

  • Most states require employers to provide a written statement of reasons when they terminate an employee or decline to hire an applicant due to a prior criminal conviction. If the information contained within the background check is inaccurate, an existing employee may be able to appeal his job termination, and applicants may be able to demand correction of the record. If the information was erroneous or the conviction was not job-related, employees and applicants have a right to file a discrimination claim with their state equal employment opportunity agency.


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