Do you have a criminal history you wish you never had? Depending on when and what you did, you may have to answer for those crimes on employment and housing applications for a long time. And that reality begs the question: can Washington employers use your criminal past against you when you are applying for a job? Absent a compelling business reason, employers are not allowed to exclude individuals from employment. This basic command has been in effect for close to 25 years. Unfortunately, the definition of a compelling business reason is rather ambiguous and without rigorous enforcement and oversight, many competent candidates are left out of the interview process because he or she responded affirmatively to a question relating to criminal history. .
The National Law Employment Project reports that 90% of companies use some type of criminal background check as part of their hiring decision. The advocacy group also concluded that companies of all sizes deny many applicants with any type of criminal background a chance at even entry level jobs. Some Washington companies may have a compelling reason for denying employment to certain individuals convicted of a crime, but most do not.
As a Washington employee, you should be aware of the shortcomings in your candidacy. Here are some interview tips for those Washington employees with a criminal conviction:
1. Look up your report: You may not know the extent of what is on your criminal background and obtaining a copy is the first step towards cleaning your record and getting a job. Knowing exactly what is on your record will also help prepare you to answer questions related to it. In some instances, what you see on your criminal background is not true—mistakes on these reports happen all the time.
2. Expunge: Depending on the crime, you may be able to expunge it from your record permanently. Expungement (which essentially removes the offending criminal charge) is a good option for individuals that have completed the terms of their probation and not gotten into any more trouble.
3. Fill out your resume: Finding work is hard even for people that do not have a single blemish on their resume. So while you are looking for a job, engage in activities that make you a more appealing applicant. Volunteering at a local charity and picking up a new marketable skill are two things that you can’t go wrong with.
4. Have a good response: If you think you may be asked about your criminal blemish, think of a good response to give employers for why it exists and how it will not affect your employment. Better to be prepared for a question like this than to be thrown off guard.
Unlike things like religion and race, discrimination on the basis of a criminal past is not a protected class. That being said, if you do feel like you are experiencing discrimination for something other than your rap sheet, you should get in touch with a Washington employment lawyer to discuss the details further.