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New protections for job seekers with criminal records

by AirTalk®

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Job seekers wait in line to enter the San Francisco Hire Event job fair on November 9, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The national unemployment rate dipped this past month to 9 percent in October after employers added 80,000 jobs. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It's estimated 65 million Americans with criminal records face barriers when looking for work. Some of those barriers are within the law, but new federal guidelines want to prevent unreasonable screening out of job seekers.

Last week, the agency charged with preventing discrimination in the workplace issued a long, new list of rules to deal with Americans who have old arrest records or with prior criminal convictions totally unrelated to their line of work. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says blanket policies against criminal records violate the law.

Advocates for job seekers say such blanket rules lead to racial discrimination, as certain ethnicities have a disproportionate number of criminal records. "The EEOC has recognized that employer reliance on proxies for race – such as having a criminal record – is ‘an important civil rights issue,’” according to the National Employment Law Project.

That advocacy group researched “help wanted” ads on Craigslist and found myriad examples that violate federal guidelines. Major employers have ads that call for “no arrests of conviction” or “no felony arrests or convictions of any kind for life.” According to the EEOC, screening out applicants based on arrests alone can almost never be justified.

Gerald Maatman Jr., a lawyer at Seyfarth Shaw who represents employers, told the Wall Street Journal, “For employers that need to hire right away, it may not be very practicable.... [I]s the government creating impediments to hiring the best people or hiring in an efficient and effective way?”


Has a criminal record affected your job search? If you’re an employer, do you know the rules when dealing with criminal background checks? Does a criminal record correlate to bad behavior on the job, or not?


Maurice Emsellem, Policy Co-Director, California Office, National Employment Law Project

Joe LaRocca, Senior Asset Protection Advisor, National Retail Federation

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