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Is a Misdemeanor Bad Enough to Not Be Able to Get a Job?

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Roughly 92 percent of all employers conduct criminal background checks, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The policy of screening prospective employees is meant to reduce the occurrence of theft, fraud and violence in the workplace. The EEOC provides guidance for employers and protection for job seekers based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent court decisions. These guidelines can make it difficult to deny employment based on misdemeanor offenses.


Under EEOC guidelines, an employer cannot make hiring decisions based on arrests alone. An arrest without a conviction does not prove misconduct took place. If you were arrested and charges were later dropped, your misdemeanor arrest can't negatively affect your employment. The exception to this would be in a case in which you were arrested for misconduct on the job and your employer conducted an internal investigation of the same incident that led to you being fired. These guidelines also provide that you cannot be denied employment based on a conviction that has been sealed or expunged.


The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives job seekers certain rights regarding pre-employment background checks. The law takes steps to ensure that all information obtained by employers or third-party background check services is accurate and that you remain informed throughout the process. An employer must offer you a copy of any information obtained and inform you if the information in a background report was influential in their hiring decision. You may dispute the report if you suspect any incorrect information, and consumer reporting services must make a reasonable attempt to investigate disputed information.


The Green v. Missouri Pacific Railroad circuit court decision established that employers must consider whether your criminal record is relevant to the nature of the job you are seeking before making employment decisions. For example, DUI or petty shoplifting convictions cannot not, by law, negatively affect employment decisions for a job in engineering that does not require driving or handling cash.

Time Frame

Another factor established by the Green v. MPR decision is the length of time since conviction. Though there is no specific law that mandates a specific time frame in which crimes can no longer be considered, many companies adopt policies that ask prospective employees only about convictions that occurred within a specific number of years, according to the EEOC. Many states also have laws that prohibit employers from asking about convictions for specific crimes after a certain period of time has passed. For example, California has a law that states you do not have to disclose misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions more than two years old.


The final consideration established by Green v. MPR is the severity of the crime. This is good news if you have a misdemeanor conviction, as misdemeanors are the least severe category of crimes, aside from infractions. What is not protected in any guidelines, however, is the falsification of employment applications. An employer may deny you employment or terminate you at any time if they discover you lied about your record. It is best to be honest, especially in the case of misdemeanor convictions.


Jon Gjerde worked as a journalist in northern California where he covered topics ranging from city, county and tribal governments to alternative transportation. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from University of California, Davis.

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