Employment that requires a criminal background check has a notice on the application stating that a criminal background check will be performed. These applications must have a signature space so that you can give your permission to have the employer check with law enforcement or third party data collectors. The definition of crime that must be reported, on these applications, differs depending on the state in which the job is based.
There are several types of crimes that employers check for on a new employee application. Some check and consider juvenile records, some for misdemeanors and some just check for felonies. Some want to know about them all. However, it should be noted that employers only care about crimes for which you were convicted or for which there is not yet an outcome.
The purpose of a background check is to weed out applicants who have a likelihood of becoming a liability to the company. For example, a retail store most likely won't hire you if you had been convicted of shoplifting, nor will a bank hire a convicted armed robber as a security guard. On the other hand, if you were convicted of gambling, it's unlikely a construction company won't hire you as a laborer. Convictions for violent crimes, however, carry liability issues for a company because it is responsible for the safety of its employees.
Some employment applications that require a background check advise you that you may not have to report certain crimes, for example if the employer only cares about crimes related to its business, and yours was unrelated. Some employment applications advise you that if your record was expunged, sealed or set aside, you can answer "no" to the question "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" Others don't advise you as to the correct answer to that question. It can be a dilemma for the applicant. If you call your state police agency, it can tell you what the expungement laws are in your state; a list is also available in the resource section.
According to Sentencing Project, some states have enacted employment laws that limit the classifications of crimes on which employers can base their employment decisions. In some states juvenile records are off limits. In others employers can only ask about felonies. In the states that have expungement laws, the applicant is allowed by law to reply "no" to a question involving that record, regardless of the instructions on the employment application. In such a situation, if you are later fired for lying on your application, you may well have a cause of action against your employer.
Background checks completed by employers are not always accurate, nor are they always conducted in accordance with the laws of your state. If they use a third party to do their background checks, the data can be inaccurate with either outdated information or information on the wrong person entirely. As of 2010, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, if a potential employer uses a third party to check your background, and it uses information from that party to deny you the job, the employer is required to give you the information you need to get a copy of the report. If an employer denies your application for a different reason, it needn't notify you at all, so you'll never know the information is incorrect.
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