A misdemeanor record can sometimes affect your employment prospects, but federal and state laws restrict the degree to which an employer can use your background in making a hiring decision. Before job hunting, check your state's laws on hiring practices to find out what your rights are and never lie about your background on an application or during a job interview.
The law classifies misdemeanor crimes as less serious than felonies. States have their own classification systems for crimes, so what may be a felony in one place may be considered a misdemeanor in a bordering state. While not as damaging to job prospects as a felony, a misdemeanor on your criminal record may affect your ability to get the job or promotion you want.
Criminal Backgrounds and Employment Law
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's guidelines for employers make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant solely because of a criminal conviction. However, employers are allowed to discriminate against someone with a criminal conviction if they can demonstrate a "business necessity" in doing so. For example, if a person applies for a job that allows them to enter into the homes of clients, and that person has a conviction for theft, an employer can refuse to hire that person in order to protect its reputation with clients. In addition to federal law, states also have laws restricting the use of criminal records in making employment decisions and individual employers also have their own policies on hiring people who have misdemeanor or felony convictions.
Professional and Trade Licensing
Some trades and professions require you to obtain a state license before practicing. Licenses are usually awarded by state licensing boards and commissions operating under regulations and laws that restrict issuing licenses to those with a criminal background. If you have a misdemeanor on your record, you may need to disclose this in your license application and offer an explanation to the licensing commission. Some commissions may have quite a bit of latitude in issuing licenses, while others may have strict standards about allowing even those with misdemeanor records to become licensed. Before pursuing a career in a licensed trade or profession, contact the licensing board in your area to ask about their policy on issuing licenses to those convicted of misdemeanors.
When you apply for a job, you may be asked as part of the application process if you have ever been convicted of a crime. While it may be tempting to not tell the truth, you may automatically be disqualified as an applicant if your lie is found out. If you are hired for a job and your employer discovers that you lied on your application about having a criminal record, your employer may likewise terminate your employment. Read questions about criminal history carefully: In some cases, you may only be asked to disclose felonies. You don't have to disclose what an employer doesn't ask for.
- Connecticut Network for Legal Aid; Is Your Criminal Record Keeping You From Working?; March 2010
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse; Criminal Records and Getting Back into the Workforce: Six Critical Steps for Ex-offenders Trying to Get Back into the Workforce; Les Rosen; 2003
- U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission; Conviction Records; September 11, 2006
- Georgia Real Estate Commission; Criminal History Report
Lainie Petersen lives in Chicago and is a full-time freelance writer. She has a long career in business and media and focuses her writing on business, legal, and personal finance issues. She holds a master's degree in library and information science from Dominican University.