Disclosing Criminal Charges in Job Hunt

Last updated: September 21, 2023
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Eleana Bowman
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Disclosing Criminal Charges in Job Hunt
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Looking for a job while wrestling with the question, “Do I have to tell my employer if I am charged with a crime?” is a tough spot to find yourself in. But you’re not alone, and you’re more than just your past — you’re your future.

Jobcase is here to offer a helping hand. This article will discuss when and how to disclose a past criminal charge to an employer, your legal rights, and how to handle potential outcomes. By the end, you’ll be ready to tackle your job search confidently, no matter your history.

If you’re ready to take control of your story and move toward a brighter future, read on.

What is a criminal charge disclosure?

Before we answer whether you must tell your employer you’ve been charged with a crime, let’s unpack what a criminal charge disclosure is.

But before we do that, let’s briefly explain the difference between a charge and a conviction.

A charge is an accusation that you committed a crime. If you plead not guilty, the court will decide your innocence or guilt. And if you plead guilty, the charge will become a conviction.

A conviction is a declaration of your guilt. If you’re convicted of a crime, a judge will order you to complete a sentence.

Once an arrest happens, you’ll have a criminal record — even if the charges are dropped. This is where disclosure comes in.

A criminal charge disclosure is when you tell a potential employer about any charges that have been brought against you.

There are different laws state-to-state regarding both your rights and the employer’s rights. Make sure you check into your state’s disclosure laws before applying for jobs.

Your legal obligations will depend on the state you live in and the job you’re applying for. Each state has unique laws regarding job applicants with criminal histories.

“Ban the box” laws

Ban the box” laws prohibit employers from asking about prospective employees’ criminal history on initial job applications. The phrase “ban the box” refers to the checkbox question, “Do you have a criminal record?” “Ban the box” supporters believe that job seekers should be assessed based on their qualifications first and not automatically disqualified due to a criminal record.

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However, “ban the box” laws don’t keep employers from conducting background checks. Instead, the law makes employers wait on background checks until a specific step in the hiring process (which differs between states). So you’ll want to find out where your state stands.

But remember, not all states have adopted these laws. While some states only apply “ban the box” to public employers, others extend it to private employers as well.

EEOC guidelines

While it may feel like disclosing a criminal charge will keep you from getting a job, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidelines for employers to avoid unfair treatment. While they aren’t laws, these guidelines aim to prevent discrimination against applicants with a criminal record. Here’s a breakdown of them:

  • Employers should consider

  • The nature and gravity of the offense or conduct

  • The amount of time that has passed since the offense or conduct and/or the completion of the sentence

  • How relevant the offense is to the responsibilities of the job in question

Knowledge is power. Understanding these guidelines and your state’s laws can help you know what employers can and can’t do when considering your application.

Background checks

To maintain a safe workplace for all employees, employers seek trustworthy employees. This means background checks act as a safety net for an employer.

Think of it this way: the employee interacts with customers daily, becoming a representative of the company as a whole. So the employer needs to know that the employee can be trusted.

Keep in mind that background checks can take time to complete. If an employer offers you a job but finds an undisclosed charge on your criminal record, the employer can rescind the job offer.

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Knowing your own record is crucial. Get a copy of your background check so you can see what employers will see. Expunged records aren’t visible to employers, but sealed records can be found.

With a copy of your background check, you’ll be able to prepare for questions about specific charges or convictions. Honest answers about your background can foster the trust your potential employer is looking for.

How to approach disclosing your past criminal charge

Knowing how to confidently discuss your past is a skill all job-seekers need to have — whether they have a criminal record or not. Let’s break down when to disclose your past and how to discuss it professionally.

When to voluntarily disclose

Generally, there’s no need to disclose your criminal history until you’re directly asked about it. This usually happens during the background check stage. However, if the job application includes a clear question about criminal history, then you should be upfront at that time. Honesty is, indeed, the best policy. If a background check comes back with inconsistencies, your chance of getting employed will decrease.

Discussing the topic professionally and confidently

Discussing your criminal history can be nerve-wracking. Here are some tips to help you navigate the situation:

  • Stay composed: This conversation might be challenging, but remember, you’re not on trial. Maintain a calm and composed demeanor to show you’ve moved on from your past.

  • Keep it brief: Stick to the facts of the incident. There’s no need to share unnecessary details. The less drama, the better.

  • Focus on the positive: Emphasize the positive changes you’ve made since the incident. Have you undergone training, attended rehab, or completed a community service program, for instance? Make sure the employer knows these things because they’ll show you’re focused on your future.

The importance of focusing on growth and lessons learned

Employers appreciate personal growth. So don’t shy away from sharing the lessons you’ve learned and how you’ve grown since the charge. This situation has likely given you a unique perspective and life skills that others might not have. So spin the narrative in your favor.

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Disclosing a criminal charge is never going to be the highlight of your job hunt. But choosing to do so gives you control of your story. It’s your chance to showcase your honesty, growth, and resilience — all traits employers value.

When you’re considering whether to disclose a criminal charge, know that more employers today are increasingly open to giving people a second chance. Other companies, such as those in the education, healthcare, finance, and law enforcement fields, have strict background check policies.

So it’s important to look at specific companies’ policies on criminal charges. These policies are typically found on the job application or in the employee handbook found on the company’s website. If the policy is unclear, just ask! You’ll want to know if you’re a candidate upfront.

Boosting your employability: resumes and skills

Many employers require a resume before a candidate’s disclosure of a criminal charge. Since you want to be honest and provide a positive explanation of your abilities, a functional resume may be your strongest move.

A functional resume highlights your skills and achievements rather than listing your work experience in chronological order. It gives you space to detail your skill development — through online courses, volunteering, and training programs, for instance — which adds to your employability. Employers value skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and adaptability in all applicants.

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If you’re faced with an employment gap due to a charge, a functional resume will allow you to focus on new skills you learned rather than the time you spent at a company.

Remember, your resume isn’t just a reflection of your past but a testament to your future potential. Highlight your skills, fill any employment gaps with growth experiences, and frame your journey positively.

Preparing for the outcome: disclosing a criminal charge

Disclosing a criminal charge might make it tough to land your dream job right away. However, not disclosing it and having it up on a background check will slow the job-seeking process, too.

The outcome of disclosing could go either way. Consider transition jobs as stepping stones toward your goal. They could be in fields like construction, manufacturing, or food service, which are often more open to hiring individuals with criminal records. These jobs provide income, build your resume, and help you gain new skills.

Remember, resources are out there. Organizations and websites like the National HIRE Network, the Federal Bonding Program, and Jails to Jobs exist to support you. You’re not alone in this.

Your next chapter starts now

Answering the question, “Have you been charged with a crime?” can be tough. But remember, every step you take brings you closer to your new future and a fresh start.

In this article, you’ve equipped yourself with the knowledge of your legal obligations and how to handle the “charged with a crime” conversation with potential employers. You’re not just hoping for the best — you’re prepared for it.

You’ve got the knowledge, the tools, and the resilience to find a job you love. And don’t forget that you have our team at Jobcase to turn to whenever you need extra resources.

1 Comment


Morgan Lange
Bullet point
New and extremely talented.

Why are the Gig economy companies allowed to demand background checks when they are adamant about the fact that they are not your employers and you are not an employee and do not have the right to be recognized as such?