Understand Your Employment Rights as a Person with a Criminal Background

For people returning to society with a criminal record, it’s important to know the legal environment and how it affects them. Oftentimes, the sometimes-challenging task of getting a job and building a solid career has just got that much more difficult.

Aside from societal restraints or prejudices you’ll have to deal with, there may also be legal restrictions that you should be aware of. Individuals with criminal backgrounds face legal barriers that may prevent them from obtaining a drivers licence, receiving public assistance for housing, accessing federal health care programs like Medicare or Medicaid, and, most importantly, gaining employment.

There is one law in particular that you should pay close attention to when trying to re-establish yourself in the workforce and that is knowing your state’s position on whether questions about an individual’s criminal background can be included on employment applications. Organizations in the ”Ban the Box” or “Fair Chance” movement have successfully pushed to have the question asking about criminal convictions removed from employment applications in 17 states and more than 100 cities and counties, Ohio being the most recent.

If your state is listed below, they have ban the box laws in place; check the National Employment Law Project website to see if your local municipality has passed similar legislation.

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Virginia

Laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, though, so make sure to examine the legal requirements for employment applications or other steps in the hiring process—many fair chance laws still allow an employer to ask about a criminal background before extending a job offer, for instance.

If the time to discuss a criminal background with an employer does come, here is some advice for how to do so. You can also contact your local Goodwill about re-entry programs, and connect with a virtual career mentor on GoodProspects®.