I do not believe that this question is specific enough for a simple yes or no answer. There are far too many other factors to consider when asking this question, such as:
What type of job is the person applying for?
What was the nature of the crime committed?
How does the crime relate to the position?
How long ago was the offense committed?
Far too many times are a person’s character judged by simple mistakes. I know first hand how frustrating it can be to have a past mistake haunt your present and future. I recently was offered a position at a seed oil processing plant. The position was a simple labor job, emptying soy beans out of rail cars and semi trucks, and then loading them into a crusher to extract the oils. The interview went extremely well, and they immediately liked my personality. They considered me a perfect fit for the position. The morning after the interview the Human Resources manager called me. He offered me the position on the conditions that I pass a drug test and background check.
Now I have never been a bad person, but I have made mistakes. I do not believe that George W. Bush is a bad person, but he did make mistakes. And he got re-hired in spite of his mistakes the first time around. No, he did not commit a crime in the traditional sense, but I believe he may have committed some war crimes. I have committed some crimes, and I readily admit it. I was convicted of three felonies. I was convicted of felony theft and felony possession of burglary tools in August of 1994. I was 19 years old. I was again convicted of a felony, receiving stolen property, in August of 1995. I was sentenced to 19 months with the “corrections” department. (I find it quite ironic that it is called this, since there is not much in the way of corrections in the system. It’s more like criminal networking and planning.) I served my time, and was released from prison in November of 1997.
Since then, the only crimes I have committed have been minor traffic offenses. I have been involved in a few volunteer efforts since then as well. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. It is in my nature to help others and provide any assistance that I can. I have volunteered at Habitat for Humanity, and I helped a retired military man get his house back together in Mississippi after hurricane Katrina. He had hired a contractor to do the work, but the contractor had taken the money and run, leaving the man with a gutted house, and a bad taste in his mouth.
So what do you suppose showed up on the “background” check? Of course only the criminal charges did, and not the community service. Now I had warned the Human Resources manager of these charges when he mentioned the background check. I told him that I had three felonies that I was convicted of 13 years ago. He said that it should not matter if I had nothing in the last seven years. I told him that I had a couple of traffic offenses, and he assured me that there was no issue with those. With the confidence that my long ago criminal history would have no bearing on the offer, I agreed to take the position. I passed the physical and drug test, and waited for 2 weeks before they finally got the background check results. It is a funny thing how seeing it on paper is somehow worse than hearing it verbally, because once they received the background check, they withdrew the offer of employment.
This was quite upsetting for me, since I had been upfront and honest with them, and was told that it would not be a problem. Yet here I sit, still unemployed, and discouraged about my future. I am currently enrolled in college, pursuing a B.A. degree in Business Administration. Since this deflating experience, I have to wonder if I should even complete my degree. Will I even be able to find a job in this field given my criminal record? I cannot even get a job pushing soy beans around with a bobcat! I wonder what kind of risk I pose to those soy beans. Are they afraid that I might pocket a few beans here and there? Do they think I would steal a rail car full of beans? I simply do not understand the concern of the company. If they think a background check is going to give them a good indication of a person’s character, then the background check should go a lot further than just criminal records.
Another aspect of the background check I do not understand is the consumer reports. How is this going to present the persons character accurately? If you were to obtain a credit report on me, it would tell you that I have a credit card that I did not pay on. This would give you the impression that I am not responsible, as I do not pay my bills. What the credit report will not tell you is that I had paid the balance in full and requested to close the account. I had only used the card one time, and I simply did not like the terms. A 22% interest rate was not something I was prepared to digest. Yet in the fine print, there was a clause stating that there was a $35 account closing fee. This was charged to the account that I had requested to be closed. So I paid them again, only to receive a “late payment” fee. I refused to pay it, and this $35 fee has ballooned into a $900 and some odd dollar account balance! Does this mean I have some horrible character flaw? I think not.
So what do you think? Is the fact that I committed a few property crimes over 13 years ago a good reason to deny me employment? Even though according to the justice system I have successfully repaid my debt to society? Is the fact that I have done community service of my own accord, enrolled in college to try and advance my knowledge and expand my horizons, and every employer I have ever worked for acknowledges that I have been an outstanding employee somehow clouded by the fact that I made a few mistakes early in life? Apparently it is, and this country that was founded on the idea of new beginnings has become judgmental and critical of anyone who dares to live or come here. We scoff at illegal immigrants who do the work that none of us wants to do. We judge people on personal appearances and demographics. We shift the focus from ourselves to others and ignore our own faults. Yet we somehow overlook a criminal that causes $50 billion dollars in losses of innocent people’s money in one Bernard Madoff. No, I think the fact that someone has a felony conviction should not prevent them from gaining employment. Certainly not when they are making the necessary efforts to better themselves. It is the hidden criminals who use lies and deceit that are a far worse threat to any employer and this country.