For those convicted of crimes, the debt to society is not easily repaid. It may be assumed that completing a prison sentence and parole would be the end. In reality, being flagged as a criminal can have a lifelong impact.
People are often vetted when getting a job or even an apartment. These simple activities can however be hard for felons to accomplish.
This is due to the risk of having their past revealed. In hopes that there is a time limit, some do ask: How far back do background checks go?
Felons, and misdemeanor offenders, would naturally prefer that no one discover what they did. This is because others tend to have a negative view of those that have a criminal past.
They are seen as more dishonest and likely to cause trouble. This is why many employers and landlords will reject their applications.
While such discrimination can be illegal, it is hard to enforce laws that prohibit it. This makes the right of a felon to live a decent life hard to achieve.
But there is little one can do to cover up such a past. Through the use of background checks, employers, landlords, and other interested parties can find the truth.
However, certain strategies may help in making a better impression. More on this later.
Let’s first discuss what felons are and why their crimes are of concern.
What Is a Felon?
Felons are people that have committed more serious crimes. These crimes attract a penalty of over a year in prison. They are prosecuted either by the state or federal authorities.
At the state level, some of these crimes may not always be felonies. States get to draft their own laws, meaning some may consider the same crime in different ways. For instance, some DUI offenses may be misdemeanors in some states, and felonies in others.
Federal laws are however universal. They attract the same penalties, wherever they are prosecuted. Federal law classifies felonies from Class A-E based on the sentencing guidelines.
Some of the common felony crimes include murder, assault, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and arson. These are the more serious of felonies that involve harm to persons and property.
Because of the serious nature of felony crimes, these perpetrators are the worst viewed.
So how do background checks work to reveal these people?
What Is a Background Check?
Jobs are no longer secured through just a good resume and interview. Employers have become more diligent in verifying information given.
For felons, this can be a worry as it means they will certainly discover their past. Even if they do not ask about crimes, a background check should be able to reveal such.
Employers are not supposed to base their hiring decisions on whether a person is a felon or not. This is why employers first take time to vet other aspects of candidates before requesting this report.
They begin by assessing resumes and gauging responses during interviews to identify top picks. Some may also undertake certain tests to gain a better profile on candidates. They then have them sign a consent form that allows for a background check.
Companies typically engage third party credit reporting agencies to generate these reports. The amount of details in the reports will depend on the extent of the information required by the employer. Some may just want to check on criminal history, while others will want information.
Usually, the more senior the position, the more detailed a report that will be requested. There are many different kinds of reports that can be sourced. Let’s unravel this a bit later.
Because of the various sources of data used, it can take a while to generate these reports. Employers can wait anywhere between a few days to a couple of weeks. When waiting for the outcome of your vetting, you will therefore need to be patient.
So does this mean a person will forever be tainted by the sins of the past? Not necessarily. Here’s why…
How Far Back Criminal Background Checks Go?
This can vary greatly, depending on the type of background check and request of the employer. There may also be some variation based on jurisdiction. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) does not set a limit on how back background checks can run.
Some states will permit a criminal background check that goes back seven years. This focuses mainly on convictions.
However, when the clock starts can vary. Some will count from the date of disposition, other from when the inmate is released. It is vital to verify when this countdown begins in your jurisdiction.
States like California, Maryland, Nevada, and Texas prescribe the seven-year rule. California does however allow for checks of up to ten years for positions with salaries over $125,000.
Certain jobs do attract greater scrutiny. It is not just based on salary alone. Where the law permits, employers offering sensitive positions may request extended scope reports. For instance, where there is the care of children and the elderly.
Such extended scope reports are more expensive. They are therefore not the default choice for most employers who pay for the report.
In states like Alaska, Michigan, and New York, not guilty verdicts are excluded from these reports. Kentucky does not allow reporting on pending cases but has no limit on convictions.
While the scope of these searches is typically seven years, some states are more stringent. They may allow arrests, guilty, and not guilty verdicts to be discoverable without a limit.
Felons should check the laws of their jurisdiction to figure out what will come out in their report. You can also pay these credit reporting agencies to generate the report for you to be sure.
If the reporting laws are unfavorable, consider relocating to a less strict place.
Types of Background Checks
As said, there are several types of background checks. Let’s consider some of the most requested that employers and landlords pursue.
- Criminal Background Checks
This focuses on any history of a criminal conviction in a person’s past. Depending on jurisdiction, the report may have a time limit. Many states have a seven or year limit in law.
Typically, both felony and misdemeanor offenses will be discoverable. While felonies may have a limit of seven or ten years, misdemeanors can also be limited to five years.
The most reliable source of information is courthouse records. The data is gleaned from federal, state, and county records.
46 states do have electronic databases. This makes it easy for credit reporting agencies to check records. In the remaining four states, researchers must visit county courthouses to get information.
Sex offender registries and global terrorist listings are other databases that may be checked. Some employers may also delve into DMV records. This is common where the job involves driving.
- Education Verifications
As part of your resume, you will likely list the schools attended and certifications achieved. You will also indicate the years attended.
In many occupations, this information is vital. Especially where the certification is needed to ensure competency. Such can be expected in medical and legal professions.
Checkers will communicate with the schools you list. They will verify that you did attend and graduate as indicated. There is no time limit on this kind of check.
- Credit History Checks
This check delves into the financial side of things. Employers will want to know that you are creditworthy. This means you are managing your debt obligations well.
Anyone with piling debt would be a risk in a financial position. More so if they have committed financial crimes like embezzlement.
Landlords are also interested in this check. They will want to discover if there are any reports of unpaid rent.
These checks may also extend to bankruptcy checks. Depending on the salary of the position and state laws, these checks can go back seven or ten years.
- Employment History
This is another vital check on competency. Claiming you have a certain number of years in experience can inspire confidence in your abilities. Employers need to know you have done the work you claim.
It does not even need to be about skills. They may just want to check on character. Talking to previous employers will give them an idea of your work ethic.
It will also verify your background. Gaps in work history may indicate that someone was just unemployed, or incarcerated.
- Professional License Verifications
With a professional license, the holder is certified to have been found qualified for their job. They are verified to have the necessary training, skills, and ethics for the job.
Licenses are a requirement to work in certain fields. This includes teaching, medicine, law, and some construction jobs.
They sometimes require renewal after a certain period. If a holder commits a crime related to their job, it is reported to the responsible licensing board.
Verifying that a license is valid and is in good standing is important. It ensures the person can be trusted to carry out their duties responsibly.
Why Background Checks Are Done?
As said, employers prefer to avoid trouble. Hiring someone with a violent past can place other employees and customers at risk. Even non-violent offenders may have weaknesses that can affect their ability to work well.
There is also the potential for liability issues. A failure to properly vet a new hire can result in a crime being committed. If the person had such a history, the person responsible for the hire may be held liable.
Injury may be done to a customer or other bystander as a result of employee actions. If this happens while on the job, the company may also be liable.
So the primary driving factors behind these checks are security and liability.
Many credit reporting agencies offer affordable package deals to employers. This encourages many to delegate these responsibilities to them. Within a few days, they often have enough information to make their hiring decisions.
How to Mitigate a Bad Background Check Result?
When you know that your background check will be bad, you need to counter it.
The first step involves being honest about your background. Whatever information shared in a resume or job application should be truthful.
If you lie, chances are you will be discovered. That often means disqualification, even if you impressed them at the interview stage.
How you have spent your time since release will matter. Efforts to improve your situation and that of others will help.
Taking up courses to add to your skill set can help. This demonstrates focus and ambition. Many jobs need that attitude.
Engaging in social work like volunteering at a shelter and counseling at-risk youth is good. It shows you wish to give back to society and make a difference in others’ lives.
Relocation is another option. As mentioned, some states are far too revealing of criminal records. You may have better odds of securing a job in a place with more restrictive reporting laws.
This however works best if you have surpassed the seven-year mark without repeat offending.
Employers have found discrepancies in 84% of job applications and resumes collected. Some can be attributed to simple mistakes like being a year off on graduation date. Others are however a deliberate attempt to obscure the truth.
With employers and landlords now being stricter in their scrutiny, being truthful is the best option. While it may reduce your chances of getting that job or housing, it is better than being outed.
By applying the right strategies, you can make yourself more appealing. And even if you do face rejection, being persistent should eventually pay off.
Many companies are open to recruiting felons. Targeting careers and companies with such an attitude will boost your chances.
Do not be discouraged by mistakes of the past. Even non-felons find it tough in the job market. Work harder and you will overcome.