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Can Employers Ask About Details of a Felony Charge?

Question from Elaine, Can Employers Ask About Details of a Felony Charge?

Answer from AI:

When you’re applying for a job, undergoing a background check is a common part of the process. If you have a felony charge in your past, you might wonder how much detail your potential employer can legally request about it. In the United States, the laws governing what employers can ask about criminal records vary by state, but there are some general guidelines and federal laws that apply.

Understanding Your Rights

First, it’s important to understand that employers have the right to conduct criminal background checks and to ask about your criminal history. However, there are restrictions on how they can use this information.

Federal Laws:

  • The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): If an employer uses a third party to conduct a background check, the FCRA requires them to obtain your consent first. You also have rights to dispute the accuracy of the report if it leads to adverse employment action.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This law, enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The EEOC has issued guidance suggesting that employers should not have blanket policies against hiring anyone with a criminal record and should consider the nature of the crime, the time elapsed, and the nature of the job.

State Laws and Ban-the-Box Policies

Many states and localities have enacted “Ban-the-Box” laws, which prohibit employers from asking about criminal history on a job application. These laws often require employers to wait until later in the hiring process to ask about criminal records, sometimes not until after a conditional job offer has been made. However, these laws vary significantly by location.

What Employers Can Ask

If an employer is legally permitted to ask about your criminal history, they can ask for details about your felony charge. This might include:

  • The nature of the offense
  • The date of the offense
  • The outcome of the case (e.g., conviction, deferred adjudication)

However, employers should be careful to ensure that their inquiries are consistent with EEOC guidance and relevant state laws. They should focus on how the details of your felony charge relate to the job you’re applying for.

Best Practices for Job Seekers

If you have a felony charge in your background, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Be honest. If an employer asks about your criminal history, provide truthful information. Lying can result in losing a job offer or termination if the truth comes out later.
  2. Be prepared to explain. Have a concise explanation of the circumstances surrounding your charge, what you’ve learned, and how you’ve changed since then.
  3. Know your rights. Familiarize yourself with the laws in your state regarding criminal background checks and employment.
  4. Seek legal advice if necessary. If you’re unsure about your rights or how to handle questions about your criminal history, consider consulting with a legal professional.


Employers can ask about the details of your felony charge, but their inquiries must comply with federal and state laws. Being prepared and informed can help you navigate these questions more effectively. Remember, if you have specific concerns or need advice tailored to your situation, consulting with a legal professional is recommended.

For more information on your rights and how to handle criminal history questions during job applications, you can visit the EEOC’s guidance on arrest and conviction records and the FTC’s advice on employment background checks.

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