Lots of people get into trouble with the law, casually or seriously, at some point in their lives. But not everyone knows how much that changes their prospects, especially when it comes to future job hunting.
While it’s generally illegal for employers to indiscriminately deny all applicants with criminal records, many still do. A quick look at New York job postings on Craigslist, for example, reveals common caveats: ‘absolutely no felony convictions’ or ‘must have clean criminal record.’
“’This is blatantly illegal hiring practice,’says Sally Friedman, a lawyer at the Legal Action Center. It’s not that it’s against the law to consider a job applicant’s past convictions. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. The no-criminal-records-allowed policy rule, Friedman explains, may lead employers to throw out solid candidates.
“But even in New York, which leads the country in legal protections for people with criminal records, finding a job with a record of convictions or arrests can be tough. Melissa, who has an arrest record, says she recently landed a job selling tickets at a tourist attraction, only to receive an email the day before orientation that read, “We must withdraw our offer due to the background check.”
“’That had me upset also,’ she says. ‘Like, wow, I can’t even get a job doing cashiering. What kind of work can I do?’ The employer didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Melissa says that kind of outright rejection is common. Even more commonly, she never gets a call back when an application asks if she has any convictions and she marks “yes.”
“But is that actually discrimination? Princeton professor Devah Pager researched that question in the New York City Hiring Discrimination Study. ‘We hired groups of young men to pose as job applicants, and we sent them all over New York City applying for real low-wage, entry-level job openings,’ she explains.
Researchers recruited young men who were similar in job experience, education, skills, and even physical attractiveness. They sent them to 250 employers with fictitious resumes that were identical with the exception that some had a minor drug possession conviction. Results revealed that the job applicant with a conviction was nearly 50 percent less likely to be called back or receive a job offer.