Resources for Job Seekers with Criminal Records

Looking for new employment with a criminal record presents unique problems for both the applicant and potential employer.

People with criminal records are protected from undue job discrimination for, most types of jobs but they still have difficulty finding gainful employment that takes advantages of their skills. Individuals with criminal records can choose to apply to either jobs that may require a personal background check and those that do not. In most cases, applying for employment opportunities that do not require a background check is the same for the formerly incarcerated as it is for the general population because the employer will have no knowledge of anyone’s criminal history. Applying for positions with employers that require a background check as part of the interview process will generally require the applicant to address their criminal past and potentially explain to the employer why such behavior is no longer a problem in the present.

Once you have understood your basic rights as a job seeker with a criminal record in the job market, there are several programs you can take advantage of to better your employment chances and career development opportunities. Some of these programs offer one-on-one counseling and transition services to the formerly incarcerated while others aim to work with communities and employers to foster a more inclusive environment for anyone who has had to face issues in the justice system. Several online resources dedicated to helping individuals with a criminal record find decent work also provide an array of positions, training opportunities and career-related information specifically for this group. Read on to learn more about the legal rights and available resources of job seekers with criminal records.

The Legal Rights of Job Applicants with Criminal Records

According to federal law, an employer can ask you a vast range of interview questions concerning your experience and background, including your criminal history. Employers are only universally barred from asking you for your medical or genetic histories. According to regulations enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an employer who plans on conducting a background check on you must first receive your written confirmation accepting the request before moving forward. If the employer decides not to hire you because of something uncovered in your background report, then he or she is required by law to provide you with a copy of the report and a “notice of rights” that includes contact information for the company who completed the report. These regulations are the federally mandated minimums, meaning specific states and cities may have more restrictive policies regarding the legality of background checks for employment purposes.

If you disagree with the findings in the report or feel like the employer did not appropriately handle your candidacy, then the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) looks into such situations. EEOC regulations clearly state that no one should be discriminated against for his or her age, race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, genetic information, medical history, and these are often cited alongside the right to work of the formerly incarcerated. The only exceptions to these guidelines protecting against discrimination are the rare situations whereby extraordinary factors come into play. An ex-con who served time in prison for robbing banks can legally be turned down for a job position by a bank, for example, after a manager has completed a background check and learned of the applicant’s past.

Career Development Resources Available to People with Criminal Records Looking For Employment

For many people newly released from prison, transitioning back into the outside world can be incredibly trying. Finding work in the open marketplace with a criminal record and skills learned behind bars is a particularly challenging part of this transition. Luckily, there are multiple individuals and programs set up to support the formerly incarcerated during this time. Some of the most important career development resources available for helping transitioning individuals with criminal records include parole officers and representatives from your state unemployment office.

Your Probation Officer

A probation officer is often the first point of contact for those transitioning from the justice system to the general public. While it is common for parole officers to be seen as extensions of the prison system by former inmates when they first get out, many come to depend on their probation officers for support and as an important source of information that can help them stay out of prison and even prosper.

Seasoned parole officers are a goldmine of information on how job seekers with a criminal record can re-integrate into their local communities, the ways in which the families of transitioning individuals can process the situation and some of the most popular employers in the area for people with criminal records. In most cases, if your parole officer sees that you are hardworking and dedicated to making positive changes in your life, then he or she will be happy to do anything in his or her power to help the newly released successfully become a part of their communities.

Your State Unemployment Office

No matter where you live across the country, your state is sure to have one or more state unemployment offices helping the unemployed find suitable work. You can contact your state unemployment office and specifically request to speak with a case manager who specializes in finding work opportunities for the formerly incarcerated. Specialized representatives at the state office will be able to help you assess your needs and current skill set, analyze your criminal record for any legal restrictions on employment that may apply to you, help you figure out what career path you are most interested in and much more.

In many cases, these specialized caseworkers also have an established network with community businesses that they know have no problems with hiring people with criminal records. If there is any inaccuracy or another issue on an individual’s criminal record, then state unemployment office case managers can also put job applicants with criminal records in touch with the appropriate legal services.

The National H.I.R.E. Network

The National H.I.R.E. (Helping Individuals with criminal records Re-enter through Employment) Network provides an array of resources and types of assistance to both interested employers and job seekers with criminal records. The online National H.I.R.E. Network allows individuals with criminal histories to research their rights and resources on a state-specific basis, while also reviewing any regulations pertaining to all people with criminal records living anywhere in the country. Representatives of the H.I.R.E Network advocate for the rights of the newly released and work with communities to help counter discrimination against former inmates professionally and personally.

Federal Bonding

In an effort to support the employment of job applicants with criminal records in many types of companies, the national government has instituted a program known as Federal Bonding. Through the Federal Bonding program, the formerly incarcerated are able to access job positions that they may have otherwise been shut out of. The Federal Bonding program acts as a fidelity bond for employers, protecting them against any monetary loss or theft that may result from hiring those who are considered to be high-risk applicants because of their criminal histories. Many employers are much more likely to “take the chance” on a job seeker with a criminal record if a Federal Bond is in place that protects their investment. For example, workers with plumbing careers are often trusted with expensive merchandise and an employer would want costly pipes and tools to be covered. Interested individuals with criminal records can find more information about working for companies with a Federal Bond by contacting a representative at your nearest state unemployment agency.

Online Resources for Job Seekers with Criminal Records

In addition to the resources already mentioned, job seekers with criminal records can find a vast amount of information about their rights, popular companies that work with people with criminal records, news about upcoming job fairs or other events and much more. The following are some of the most up-to-date and comprehensive web resources available to applicants with a criminal history:

  • 70MillionJobs is a great website dedicated to changing public opinion about people with criminal records and helping those people integrate better both into their communities and into productive industries. The name of the website refers to the 70 million adult Americans who have criminal records and who would like to be active in the job market.
  • Second chance aims to “disrupt the causes of incarceration and poverty by helping people find their way to self-sufficiency.” The web portal has tons of helpful resources for job seekers with criminal records.
  • The Reentry Services Directory, developed by the National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC), provides information to those who were formerly incarcerated and their families on local re-entry services in their local area that they can easily take advantage of.
  • HelpForFelons.org is an organization that works to provide aid to and support for and people with criminal records in addition to career resources and job networking opportunities.

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