Can a Pre-Employment Criminal Background Check for Misdemeanors?

by Eric Feigenbaum; Updated September 26, 2017
Retail businesses can choose not to hire someone convicted of shoplifting.

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.

Consent

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.

Relevance

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.

Exceptions

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.

Honesty

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.

About the Author

Eric Feigenbaum started his career in print journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of "The Daily" of the University of Washington during college and afterward working at two major newspapers. He later did many print and Web projects including re-brandings for major companies and catalog production.

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