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Can You Get a Federal Job With a Criminal History?

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According to recent estimates, one in four adults in the United States has a criminal record . Even after serving their sentences, completing parole or probation, or paying fines, ex-offenders face many challenges rejoining free society. One of those problems is finding a job.

The Burden of Background Checks

Employers today routinely conduct background checks on job applicants. This is typically one of the early steps taken to identify viable candidates. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), criminal background checks can include arrest records going back seven years, with no time restrictions on criminal convictions. Companies, however, are governed by various laws concerning what they can and cannot consider for employment purposes. These laws vary by state, but for example, employers in 12 states are barred from basing employment decisions on arrest records. Additionally, companies in most states cannot use criminal records that are sealed, annulled, expunged or pardoned by the governor.

Questions About Character

Even though various state laws govern how criminal background checks are used in employment decisions, about 70 percent of companies screen applicants. Research shows that ex-offenders are adversely impacted by criminal background checks. Employers may not hire them for certain roles, such as those that involve contact with children, handling money or providing security. Additionally, convicted felons are prohibited by federal and state laws from serving in certain positions. Employers also report that a criminal past raises questions about character attributes, including trustworthiness and honesty.

Finding a Federal Job

The pay, benefits and relative job security are among the advantages of a federal job, and ex-convicts are not prohibited from federal employment. According to the United State Office of Personnel Management, having a criminal history doesn't prevent an applicant from being considered for a federal job. The USA Jobs website, the official job portal for federal jobs, states various factors -- including the nature of the position, recency of the misconduct and evidence of rehabilitation -- are considered when reviewing applicants.

The Fine Print

A criminal history can preclude federal employment in certain roles. According to the Office of Personnel Management, some regulations prohibit ex-convicts with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from being in a position that involves shipping, transporting, possessing or receiving firearms or ammunition. Other crimes make federal employment an impossibility, but these crimes -- treason, inciting rebellion against the United States and advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government -- are rare. The Office of Personnel Management advises applicants with a criminal record to provide all requested information about their criminal history at the time of application, and the hiring agency can determine if any specific prohibitions apply.


K. Danielle Edwards is an experienced media, public relations, marketing, journalism and communications professional whose portfolio spans daily newspapers, monthly publications, government, national corporations and other companies. Edwards has also won awards for her contributions to communications and social media.

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