Employment Rights of Workers with Criminal Records

Workers with a criminal record - even a minor record dating back many years- often have a difficult time finding employment, especially given the proliferation of criminal background checks. For example, a major survey of Los Angeles employers found that over 60% of employers would "probably not" or "definitely not" be willing to hire an applicant with a criminal record.  

Although employers may (to varying legal degrees) consider a worker's criminal history as part of the application process, employers often fail to comply with a range of federal and state laws that provide fundamental protections against abuse of criminal background checks.  As a result, far too many hard-working people are wrongly denied employment, often in growing industries with serious labor shortages.

Of special importance, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)has concluded that because African American and Latino workers are arrested and convicted more often than whites, hiring policies that exclude workers with a criminal record may discriminate in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition, the nation's federal consumer protection law (the Fair Credit Reporting Act) requires accuracy in background checks conducted by private screening firms, and mandates that employers provide a copy of background check reports to workers before any adverse employment decision is taken.

In partnership with community groups and legal advocates, NELP has initiateda new program to enforce these critical employment protections by: 

  • Making presentations to regional EEOC offices, workforce development specialists, public defenders, unions and other key organizations to help spread the word about civil rights and consumer rights protections.

  • Educating employers about the EEOC's Title VII standards that apply to people of color who are denied employment based on an arrest or conviction record. 

  • Offering legal assistance in special cases to workers who want to enforce their anti-discrimination rights by filing Title VII discrimination complaints with the EEOC. 

For more information about our work in this area, pleasecontact Madeline Neighly, mneighly@nelp.org, or Michelle Natividad Rodriguez, mrodriguez@nelp.org  

Other key resources:

CommunityLegal Services of Philadelphia

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission