DC "Banned the Box," but what other records do employers still check?
The “Ban the Box,” or Fair Criminal Record Screening Act legislation went into effect in the District of Columbia in December 2014. The new law means that most employers in DC can no longer ask a job applicant if they have a criminal history in the initial application or interview. For more information on Ban the Box and filing complaints visit http://ohr.dc.gov/page/returningcitizens.
While ban the box is an important change that will reduce barriers to employment for returning citizens, it does not mean that negative records cannot affect a job application. For those with criminal records, it is important to know that employers can still legally investigate and consider jobseekers’ criminal records after making conditional job offers.
And all jobseekers should be aware that potential employers’ background checks may turn up other negative records, not just criminal ones. Employers routinely check other records like credit reports, driving records, academic records, public information, which may also be barriers to employment.
Jobseekers should find out what information is in their records in order to be aware of what employers will see in order to develop strategies to deal with any negative records. Legal aid attorneys may be able to help correct any mistakes or help seal or change negative records to help jobseekers improve their chances of getting and keeping jobs.
So what records do employers investigate? What can jobseekers do to improve their chances at being hired?
Have you Googled yourself?
Most employers investigate public records and non-criminal records such as websites, Facebook profiles, online court records, and other publicly available information. Employers do not need to ask your permission to investigate these records. Jobseekers should Google their own names and check their own Facebook and other social media pages. Are there pictures or comments that may look bad to potential employers? Is there any incorrect information? What can be changed, deleted or made private?
Background Investigations and Criminal Records
Employers may also investigate restricted records, such as criminal records, driving records, and credit history reports. Most often, employers have jobseekers check a box, initial a space, or give a signature on the job application or a separate page to get consent to check these records.
Jobseekers should start by doing an investigation of their own criminal records. Jobseekers may need to check with multiple agencies to get a full picture of their criminal records, as different areas and agencies have different databases. Even if you were never charged or convicted, there may be negative marks on your criminal record because criminal records can include arrests, non-convictions and inaccuracies. Though arrest records alone cannot be generally used to deny an employment opportunity, some employers still may illegally consider it as a factor.
In very limited circumstances, jobseekers may be able to get their criminal records sealed. (In DC, felony convictions and many misdemeanor convictions cannot be sealed.) This may be a good option for jobseekers that have errors or non-convictions on their criminal records. For questions about eligibility and the sealing process, jobseekers should consult an attorney. DC Public Defender Service has information about record sealing: www.pdsdc.org/Public/Expungement.aspx
Credit reports and other records
Additionally, many employers use credit history in their employment decisions. Credit history reports contain personal information about jobseekers’ addresses, birthdates, purchases, debts, and other sensitive information. All jobseekers should regularly check their credit history reports to make sure they are free of errors. Legally, people have the right to review their own credit history reports for free annually from www.annualcreditreports.com (the ONLY truly free credit site offered by the government). If credit history record is used to deny employment, an employer is also legally required to inform the jobseeker of this fact and receive a copy of their record.
Finally, jobseekers should also consider checking their driving, academic, court and other non-criminal records. An attorney may be able to help jobseekers check their non-criminal records and correct any errors, if they exist.
Even if jobseekers have criminal or other negative records, employers cannot legally discriminate against jobseekers because of their race, sex, religion, nationality, and many other protected class characteristics. If a jobseeker suspects illegal discrimination, that jobseeker should consult an attorney. Alternatively, jobseekers can also report suspected illegal discrimination to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission or the D.C. Office of Human Rights. ohr.dc.gov/page/complaint
Though negative records can be a barrier to employment, jobseekers can overcome them. For more information about jobseekers’ legal rights, D.C. jobseekers should contact attorneys at Neighborhood Legal Services Program, Public Defender Service, and other free, nonprofit legal service providers in and around D.C.
These materials were prepared by Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia for general legal information purposes for our client community and other advocates for low-income residents in the District of Columbia law. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current and is subject to change without notice. This information should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney licensed or authorized to practice in your state.