In the United States, a criminal record is a comprehensive list of arrests and convictions that a person has been subjected to. They’re compiled and updated on local, state and federal levels by law enforcement agencies for many reasons. These include background checks regarding a person’s identity and security, immigration/international travel/visa applications, licensing, adoption, employment and more.
There are many different types of criminal records, but the majority contain convictions, including both felony and misdemeanor charges. These can range from minor crimes that take place decades ago to serious offenses that are punishable by prison or jail.
Some states have fair employment laws that prohibit employers from taking adverse action based on a person’s criminal record, while others require individualized assessments to determine whether a conviction has a “direct and adverse relationship” to the job. Employers and licensing agencies must also notify applicants in the event that they are denied employment, license or certification based on their criminal history.
Wisconsin’s general fair employment act extends to a person’s criminal record as a prohibited ground for adverse action by public and private employers and licensing agencies (it is one of only a few states to include such a provision and provide for its administrative enforcement). It does not prevent an employer or agency from considering non-conviction records, pardoned and expunged convictions, or convictions that have been sealed or set aside, but it requires them to notify applicants in the event of denial, and allows for responses.
The vast majority of American job seekers have a criminal record, and a 2009 Justice Department study found that a past conviction reduced the chances of a job offer by 50 percent, and was twice as much of an issue for African Americans. In addition, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone based on their criminal record under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In the United Kingdom, most employers ask about criminal records at the application stage – they may also ask if you’ve ever had your conviction expunged or been pardoned. You should try to tell them that you’re happy to discuss it at the interview.
You can find out more about what to do if you’re asked by an employer, and how to approach the situation, by listening to our careers advisers. They will help you to decide if you need to disclose your conviction and give you some practical advice.
It’s not unusual for a person to have a criminal conviction and want to change their career, but you can still find work if you follow the right steps. There are a number of charities that can help you with this, such as Unlock, who campaign on your behalf and provide direct support.
Some employers will also carry out enhanced checks that will include looking at your convictions and other records, such as barred lists. This will often result in a conditional offer or even a denial.