Employment discrimination against persons with criminal records in the United States

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Employment discrimination against persons with criminal records in the United States sometimes occurs.


According to one estimate, there are currently over 12 million felons in the United States, representing roughly 8% of the working-age population.[1] The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has interpreted the Civil Rights Act to require that, where an employment policy of a state, municipal, or private employer that discriminates against criminals will have a disparate racial impact, employers must show a business necessity before automatically disqualifying criminals.[2] Some statutes prohibit hiring criminals for certain types of jobs, such as health care or education, and forbid licensing boards from distributing licenses to criminals or require the boards to consider the applicant's moral character. Professions requiring licensing can include Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics, billiard room employees, attorneys, physicians, pharmacists, nurses, barbers, embalmers, septic tank cleaners, realtors, accountants, NASD/FINRA securities brokers (investment adviser representatives), insurance agents, contractors, Bar Owners (or restaurants owners with alcohol licenses), and sellers of alcoholic beverages. Such regulations sometimes result from lobbying by professional communities seeking to raise barriers to entry.[citation needed]

As of 1998, seven states absolutely barred felons from public employment. Other states had more narrow restrictions, for instance, only covering infamous crimes or felonies involving moral turpitude. Some laws have been criticized for being overinclusive;[citation needed] for instance, a law banning all criminals from working in health care jobs could prevent a person convicted of bribery or shoplifting from sweeping the halls of a hospital. California law provides that a criminal record can affect one's application for a professional license only if "the crime or act is substantially related to the qualifications, functions and duties of the business or profession for which the application is made."[3] Further, a certificate of rehabilitation can prevent a person from being denied a license solely on the basis that he has been convicted of a felony.[4] Texas law requires that a variety of factors, such as the nature and seriousness of the crime, the relationship of the crime to the purposes for requiring a license to engage in the occupation, the amount of time since the person's last criminal activity, and letters of recommendation, be taken into account even when the applicant has a felony.[5]

All offenders[edit]

Data on criminal histories is widely disseminated by private sector agencies. It is difficult for a job applicant to prove that a prospective employer illegally discriminated against the applicant based on information on expunged convictions or dismissed charges.[citation needed]Mississippi does not erase an individual's criminal history but rather replaces "Conviction" with "Dismissed in Furtherance of Justice" in the disposition. Some state justice systems do not allow arrestees to deny arrests for which the charges were dismissed, and some do not allow those whose charges were expunged to deny the conviction.[6]

The expungement or sealing of records never erases criminal convictions or arrests. The records are hidden from public view. They will always be visible to law enforcement, government agencies and court systems, unless the person has been granted a pardon and a release that resulted due to a miscarriage of justice.


The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly permits felony disenfranchisement. But it has been pointed out that constitutional approval of felons' political powerlessness is not the same as constitutional approval of government prejudice toward the politically powerless. Such prejudice may violate the Equal Protection Clause, which contains no provision authorizing discrimination against felons. A "discrete and insular" minority subject to prejudice, in particular, may be considered particularly vulnerable to oppression by the majority, and thus a suspect class worthy of protection by the judiciary.[6]

Case Law[edit]

Some courts have rejected any notion that basing hiring decisions on criminal convictions constitutes any type of illegal discrimination.[7][8]


  1. ^ Uggen, Christopher, Melissa Thompson, and Jeff Manza (2000), Crime, Class, and Reintegration: The Socioeconomic, Familial, and Civic Lives of Offenders 
  2. ^ Sharon Dietrich, Maurice Emsellem & Catherine Ruckelshaus (1998), Work Reform: The Other Side of Welfare Reform 9, Stanley L. & Policy Review, pp. 53, 56 
  3. ^ Author(s): Elena Saxonhouse (May 2004), Unequal Protection: Comparing Former Felons' Challenges to Disenfranchisement and Employment Discrimination 56 (6), Stanford Law Review, pp. 1597–1639, JSTOR 40040198 
  4. ^ http://law.justia.com/california/codes/bpc/480-489.html
  5. ^ §213.28 Licensure of Persons with Criminal Offenses 
  6. ^ a b Ben Geiger (Jul 2006), The Case for Treating Ex-Offenders as a Suspect Class 94 (4), California Law Review, pp. 1191–1242, JSTOR 20439062 
  7. ^ Walter Olson (Manhattan Institute), "How Employers Are Forced to Hire Murderers and Other Felons," Wall Street Journal, June 18, 1997, quoted in EEOC to Employers: Hire that Felon, National Center for Policy Analysis, June 18, 1997
  8. ^ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Policy Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest Records in Employment Decisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §2000e et seq. (1982)