Companies have a responsibility to perform background checks to protect their customers and communities in addition to minimizing their own risks. Although many employers choose to be lenient and forgiving of employment candidates with misdemeanor convictions, employers are allowed to review and consider all parts of a person's criminal record when making hiring decisions. In fact, in many cases misdemeanor convictions such as petty theft, assault and reckless driving may be relevant to whether an employee is fit and safe to do his job.
A pre-employment background check can include anything you authorize in writing. Credit histories, driving records, misdemeanors, felonies, medical records, professional licenses and education are all fair game for employer consideration if you agree to them. In some cases, it may be illegal for an employer to require background information not relevant to the nature of a job. For example, medical records are relevant to hiring police officers as physical ability is critical to the work. However, requiring them for a receptionist position may be considered discriminatory and an attempt to avoid extending medical benefits to someone with health problems.
Just because an employer sees a misdemeanor on a background report doesn't mean you won't be considered for a job. Employers usually consider whether a misdemeanor is relevant to the job. A single domestic violence conviction 10 years ago may not be of any import when considering you for an insurance sales position today. However, a petty theft conviction last year will probably take you out of the running for a job as cashier or controller.
Many California businesses no longer require you to disclose marijuana-related misdemeanors. Because of changes in state law, many California businesses choose not to consider marijuana possession convictions in job applications.
Once you sign an authorization for a pre-employment background check, an employer can pull your entire criminal history. Don't make the mistake of trying to hide anything. Not listing a misdemeanor on your job application is tantamount to lying since applications usually require you to sign a statement attesting the information in your application is correct. Employers who may have overlooked a misdemeanor may instead reject your application for dishonesty. Instead, include the circumstances surrounding the misdemeanor so that hiring managers can see your integrity and fairly consider the issue.
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse; Fact Sheet 16: Employment Background Checks; February 2011
- "San Francisco Chronicle"; When Marijuana Possession Becomes an Infraction; Kathleen Pender; November 2010
- "Wall Street Journal"; When a Background Check Reveals a Misdemeanor; Toddi Gutner; August 2009
- Free Background Check: What Shows Up in a Background Check?
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