Addressing Barriers to Employment for Individuals with Criminal Records

A significant number of legal barriers and challenges, at the federal level down to local ordinances, can directly or indirectly make it difficult for someone with a criminal history to get a job.

In an effort to highlight these issues to the field and offer training, the Justice Center has partnered with key agencies across the country to develop a one-stop source for the latest information on legal, policy, and other common barriers faced by the reentry population, as well as tools and resources to help the field understand how to address these barriers through policy. 


Related Tools and Resources

Select a topic area for related information and resources  

Laws on the employment of individuals with a criminal history and use of criminal background checks

Knowing and understanding employment laws as they relate to criminal record dissemination, use, and consideration is essential for both employers and job seekers. There are many laws that restrict access to criminal record information, determine what information employers are allowed to consider in hiring decisions, and dictate what information job seekers are required to disclose. The resources in this section provide essential information on these laws, and the rights and obligations of employers and job seekers.

Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended
Source: Equal Employment Opportunities Commission
Available here
Summary: The enforcement guidance consolidates and updates the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance documents regarding the use of arrest or conviction records in employment decisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The Commission intends this document for use by employers considering the use of criminal records in their selection and retention processes; by individuals who suspect that they have been denied jobs or promotions, or have been discharged because of their criminal records; and by EEOC staff who are investigating discrimination charges involving the use of criminal records in employment decisions.

Questions and Answers concerning EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended
Source: Equal Employment Opportunities Commission
Available here
Summary: This Q&A developed by the EEOC answers seven common questions about the EEOC’s updated enforcement guidance. It is designed to be a resource for employers, employment agencies, and unions covered by Title VII; for applicants and employees; and for EEOC enforcement staff

65 Million "Need Not Apply:" The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment
Source: National Employment Law Project
Available here
Summary: This policy paper provides information criminal background checks, including: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a law that regulates the use of criminal background checks in hiring, an overview of recently filed law suits regarding the misuse of background checks, and a summary of employment/criminal background discrimination violations found through a survey of Craigslist employment ads. It also provides information on how the use of criminal background checks affect the broader economy and public safety.
Keywords: background checks, Civil Rights Act, Title VII, employment discrimination laws

National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC)
Source:  American Bar Association
Available here
Summary:   This is a database of the collateral consequences at the state and federal levels, resulting from a criminal conviction. Displayed as an interactive map, information on consequences can be accessed for each state. Users can search by Consequence Category (for example: employment, occupational and professional license and certification, government contracting and program participation, education, etc.), or search by Triggering Offense Category (for example: any felony, any misdemeanor, crime of moral turpitude, controlled substances offenses, sex offenses, and more). This is being prepared by the American Bar Association under a contract with the U.S Justice Department. Currently, the database includes 23 states and the federal government, and will be completed in 2014.
Keywords: collateral consequences, legal sanctions and restrictions, criminal record

Internal Exile: Collateral Consequences of Conviction in Federal Laws and Regulations
Source:  American Bar Association & the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia
Available here
Summary: This publication provides a compilation of federal laws and regulations, and the collateral consequences that affect individuals with a criminal conviction. The employment-related topics discussed are collateral consequences in: federal employment, federal licensure and procurement, federal regulation of state and private employment and licensure. In addition to the employment-related topics, other topics include:  civic participation, community and military service, debarment from participation in federal programs, family related matters, federal benefits, and more.
Keywords: collateral consequences, legal sanctions and restrictions, criminal record, federal regulations

In Search of a Job: Criminal Records as Barriers to Employment 
Source:  National Institute of Justice
Available here
Summary: This article provides information on the barriers to obtaining employment for individuals with a criminal record and information on criminal background checks. It also guides both employers and job seekers with a criminal record on how to handle background checks during the hiring process.
Keywords:  criminal background checks, barriers to obtaining employment

The Juvenile Collateral Consequences Project
Source:  American Bar Association
Available here
Summary:  This project by the American Bar Association contains information on the collateral consequences that face youth that have come into contact with the juvenile justice system.  Users can search by state to find out about the barriers in education, employment, and public benefits that face individuals in each jurisdiction. There is also information on the treatment of juvenile records and the process of challenging, sealing and expunging these records.
Keywords: collateral consequences, employment, education, public benefits

The Attorney General's Report on Criminal History Background Checks 
Source:  Office of the Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice
Available here
Summary: This report by the Attorney Generals office of the U.S Department of Justice is a comprehensive overview of criminal history background checks and their purpose, process, legal regulation, shortcomings, and more.  On the laws regulating background checks, the report provides information on the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Guidance, state consumer reporting laws, state equal employment opportunity laws, and regulatory requirements of the private sector. The report also provides recommendations on how to improve, standardize, and consolidate the process and procedures of conducting criminal background checks.
Keywords: criminal background checks, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Title VII, Civil Rights Act, equal employment opportunity

Restoration of Rights Resource
Source:  National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Available here
Summary:  This is a collection of individual downloadable documents profiling the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to relief from the collateral consequences of conviction. The 54 jurisdictional profiles include provisions on loss and restoration of civil rights and firearms privileges, legal mechanisms for overcoming or mitigating collateral consequences, and provisions addressing non-discrimination in employment and licensing. In addition to the full profiles, there is a set of chart covering all 50 states plus territories and federal system, providing a side-by-side comparison that makes it possible to see national patterns in restoration laws and policies.
Keywords:  employment discrimination, licensing, restoration of rights, collateral consequences

Additional Resources:

A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act
Source:  Bureau of Consumer Protection
Available here
Keywords: Fair Credit Reporting Act, background checks, employer obligations, hiring ex-offenders

Accurate FBI Background Checks for Employment
Source: The National Employment Project (NELP)
Available here
Keywords: background checks, errors in background checks, FBI background checks

Adverse Employment Consequences Triggered by Criminal Convictions: Recent Cases Interpret State Statutes Prohibiting Discrimination
Source: Wake Forest Law Review
Available here
Keywords: consequences from a criminal conviction, employment, employment consequences, legal cases employment discrimination

Advocacy Toolkits: Standards for Hiring People with Criminal Records
Source: Legal Action Center
Available here
Keywords: barriers to employment, reducing barriers, tools, legal reforms, standards for hiring ex-offenders

Ban of the Box: Major U.S. Cities and Counties Adopt Fair Hiring Practices to Remove Unfair Barriers to Employment of People with Criminal Records
Source:  The National Employment Law Project (NELP)
Available here
Keywords: background checks, criminal background checks, employment discrimination, ban the box, employment reform

Best Practice Standards: The Proper Use of Criminal Records in Hiring
Source: National H.I.R.E Network
Available here
Keywords: EEOC, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, employment discrimination, employer liability, criminal background checks

Criminal Records and Employment: Protecting Yourself from Discrimination
Source: National H.I.R.E Network
Available here
Keywords: employment rights, employment discrimination, New York employee rights, criminal background checks

Directive on Complying with Nondiscrimination Provisions: Criminal Record Restrictions and Discrimination Based on Race and Origin
Source: U.S Department of Labor
Available here
Keywords: employment discrimination, employer obligations

Employer Use of Consumer/Credit Reports to Obtain Criminal Record Information
Source:  National H.I.R.E Network
Available here
Keyword:
Fair Credit Reporting Act, criminal background checks, hiring ex-offenders, employer obligations, employee rights

Expanded Use of Criminal Records and Its Impact on Reentry
Source: Community Legal Services, Inc.
Available here
Keywords: criminal records, increase access to criminal records, inaccurate criminal records

FBI RAP Sheets: Frequently Asked Questions
Source: National H.I.R.E Network
Available here
Keywords: FBI rap sheet, rap sheet, employee rights

Getting the Rap Down: Employment Strategies for New Yorkers with Criminal Records
Source: Workforce Professionals 
Available here
Keywords: criminal background checks, New York employee rights, employment tips

Highlights of EEOC’s New Criminal Record Guidance
Source: National Employment Law Project, Community Legal Services
Available here
Keywords: EEOC, Title VII, employer obligation, employment discrimination, criminal background checks

Legal Aid Helps Successful Reentry
Source: U.S Department of Justice
Available here
Keywords: legal aid, occupational license, expungement, criminal records, drivers’ licenses, criminal records, certificates of rehabilitation, eviction, child support orders

Legal Rights of People with Criminal Records: Employment
Source: Community Legal Services
Available here
Keywords: employee rights, ban the box, EEOC, filing complaints

Mass Incarceration and the Proliferation of Criminal Records
Source: University of St. Thomas Law School
Available here
Keywords:
criminal records, collateral consequences, criminal background checks, reducing consequences, rap sheets

Rap Sheets: Where they Begin and End
Source: National H.I.R.E Network 
Available here
Keywords: RAP sheet, criminal records, arrest records

Reaching a Higher Ground: Increasing Employment Opportunities for People with Prior Convictions
Source: Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice
Available here
Keywords: California, employment barriers, criminal records

Reentry MythBuster On Hiring/Criminal Records Guidance
Source: Federal Interagency Reentry Council
Available here
Keywords:
Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964, employment discrimination

Reentry Mythbuster On Criminal Histories and Employment Background Checks
Source: Federal Interagency Reentry Council
Available here
Keywords: criminal background checks, employer obligations

Reentry Mythbuster: On Federal Hiring Policies
Source: Federal Interagency Reentry Council
Available here
Keywords: federal government employment, federal government hiring policies

State Rap Sheets: Frequently Asked Questions
Source: National H.I.R.E Network, NELP, and the Sentencing Project
Available here
Keywords: Rap sheet, criminal history

The Expanding Scope, Use, and Availability of Criminal Records
Source: Legislation and Public Policy
Available here
Keywords: criminal records, types of criminal records, increase of criminal records, increase access to criminal records

The Mark of a Criminal Record
Source: American Journal of Sociology
Available here
Keywords: barrier to employment, consequences of criminal record

The Somewhat Suspect Class: Towards a Constitutional Framework for Evaluating Occupational Restrictions Affecting People with Criminal Records
Source: Journal of Law in Society
Available here
Keywords: employment discrimination, equal protection, legal cases, occupational restrictions

Training and Employment Guidance Letter on Complying with Nondiscrimination Provisions-Criminal Record Restrictions and Disparate Impact Based on Race and National Origin
Source: Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (ETA) and Civil Rights Center
Available here
Keywords: public workforce, criminal background checks, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Workforce Investment Act, Wagner-Peyser Act

True Consequences: Lying on Job Applications
Source: National H.I.R.E Network
Available here
Keywords: falsifying information on job applications, lying on job applications, consequences of lying on job application

Why Misdemeanors Matter: Defining Effective Advocacy in the Lower Criminal Courts
Source: UC Davis Law Review
Available here
Keywords: Misdemeanors, Collateral Consequences, Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, Sixth Amendment, ABA Criminal Justice Standards

Policy and legislative reforms and strategies to reduce barriers to employment and address employment discrimination

Across the nation, municipal, state, and federal agencies are attempting to reduce the barriers to employment faced by individuals with criminal records through policy initiatives like “ban the box”, restoration of rights, and criminal record expungement/sealing. The resources in this section provide information about policies that reduce barriers to employment and eliminate employment discrimination based on criminal history.

State Reforms Promoting Employment of People with Criminal Records: 2010-11 Legislative Round Up
Available here
Summary: This policy paper summarizes state-level reforms passed between 2010-2011 that helped reduce barriers to employment for individuals with a criminal record. The policy reforms discussed in the paper are in the following categories: inventories of collateral consequences, fair hiring and occupational licensing standards, the restoration of eligibility for employment and occupational licensing, expungement and sealing of records, prohibiting discrimination based on a criminal record, securing identification documents, reducing child support arrearages, training and job placement for people with criminal records, and employer negligent hiring protections. The paper also provides information on state trends on employment restrictions that are a result of an individual’s criminal record.

Ban the Box: Major U.S Cities and Counties Adopt Hiring Policies to Remove Unfair Barriers to Employment of People with Criminal Records
Source: National Employment Law Project (NELP)
Available here
Summary: This is an overview of reforms made by local cities and counties to reduce barriers to employment for individuals with a criminal record. Many of these reforms include removing the question about past convictions on job applications, not conducting background checks until later stages of the hiring process, performing background checks for only certain positions, and more. Keywords: state reforms, employment discrimination criminal record, criminal background checks

Additional Resources

Administering Justice: Removing Statutory Barriers to Reentry
Source: NYU School of Law
Available here
Keywords: reentry, felon, offender, administrative, crime, criminal law, rehabilitation

Governor Quinn Signs Legislation to Give Ex-Offenders a Second Chance; New Laws Will Improve Employment Prospects and Offer Court Systems More Sentencing Discretion
Source: Illinois Government  News Network
Available here
Keywords:  employment legislative reform, sentencing discretion

Second Chances in the Criminal Justice System
Source: American Bar Association
Available here
Keywords: alternatives to incarceration, employment licensing, access to criminal history, collateral consequences

Hiring incentives for employers and success stories

There are numerous programs that offer benefits to employers who hire people with criminal histories, such as the Federal Bonding Program and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Some states offer additional financial incentives to support employers that hire job seekers with criminal histories. The resources in this section provide information on these programs, as well as success stories from employers about the benefits of hiring people with criminal histories for their business and the communities they serve.

Federal Bonding Program
Source:  The McLaughlin Company
Available here
Summary:  The Federal Bonding program, established in 1966 by the Department of Labor provides fidelity bonds free-of-charge to employers who hire individuals who are “hard to employ,” including ex-offenders.  This site provides information on the program, its highlights, procedures for obtaining a bond, and more.
Keywords:  federal bonding program, risk protection, incentives for hiring ex-offenders

Work Opportunity Tax Credit
Source: U.S. Department of Labor
Available here
Summary:  The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a Federal tax credit available for employers who hire individuals considered to be “hard-to-employ,” including ex-offenders.  This web page from the U.S Department of Labor provides information on the tax credit, how to apply for it, and other related resources.
Keywords: work opportunity tax credit, incentives for hiring ex-offenders

The Value of Hiring People with Conviction Histories: An Employer’s Perspective
Source:  YWCA of Greater Rochester
Available here
Summary: In this speech, Fernan R. Cepero, the Vice President of Human Resources at the YMCA of Greater Rochester discusses the value of hiring individuals with criminal records. He shares his stories and his experience with hiring ex-offenders in the past 16 years, and the success and value that this has brought to his organization.
Keywords:  incentives for hiring ex-offenders, success story

 
Video of Pamela Pulk, VP of Human Resources at Johns Hopkins Health System, on benefits of hiring ex-offenders
Source:  Pastforward Progressive Placement
Available here
Summary:  In her testimony, Pamela Paulk, the Vice President of Human Resources for John Hopkins Health System, shares about her successful experiences with hiring employees that have criminal records. She also explains the benefits for businesses of hiring these individuals, arguing that they create a positive impact on the community and they have higher job retention rates than their colleagues.
Keywords:  incentives for hiring ex-offenders, success story

Get the Facts: Dispelling the Myths about Ex-Offenders Webinar
Source: National Association of Workforce Development Professionals
Available
here
Summary: During this hour and half long webinar, the presenter describes the history and the importance of the myth busters on reentry that the Federal Interagency Reentry Council created. The different myths are highlighted and then busted with the facts. These myth busters can be used to engage employers and keep them informed on the true facts about hiring someone who is released from prison.
Keywords: myth busters, reentry, employer, policy, laws

Why Would a Business Want to Train and Hire Someone Coming Out of Prison?
Source: Northwestern University School of Law   
Available here
Summary:  This succinct resource provides six reasons why a business can benefit by training and hiring individuals returning from incarceration.
Keywords:  Business; hiring; tax breaks; labor force; parole; social mission.

Reentry Mythbuster on Federal Bonding Program
Source:  The Federal Interagency Reentry Council
Available here
Summary:  Contrary to popular belief, employers can protect themselves from potential property and monetary losses when hiring at-risk employees, including ex-offenders. 
This policy brief provides information on the Federal Bonding Program (FBP), and how the program can assist businesses and employers with protecting themselves when hiring these individuals.
Keywords: federal bonding program, risk protection, hiring incentives

Reentry Mythbuster on Employer Tax Credits
Source: The Federal Interagency Reentry Council
Available here
Summary: This short brief provides information on the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program available for employers who hire ex-offenders. It dispels the myth that employers have no federal income tax advantage for hiring individuals with a criminal record.
Key Words: WOTC, tax credits, incentives for hiring ex-offenders

Additional Resources:

Smart Solutions: Individuals with Criminal Histories: A Potential Untapped Resource
Source: Legal Action Center
Available here
Keywords: success story, work opportunity tax credit, incentives for hiring ex-offenders, employer liability

Economic Benefits of Employing Formerly Incarcerated Individuals in Philadelphia
Source: City of Philadelphia, Economy League of Greater Philadelphia
Available here
Keywords:  incentives for hiring ex-offenders

Employment of Ex-Offenders: Employer Perspectives
Source: Crime and Justice Institute
Available here
Keywords: success story, incentives for hiring ex-offenders

Other common barriers to reentry and employment

Reintegration into the community and securing employment often requires addressing other important barriers, such as securing housing and transportation. The resources in this section provide information about common challenges that may impact the employability of people with criminal histories and often require intervention to help individuals overcome them, such as qualifying for public housing programs, obtaining drivers licenses, or obtaining public benefits.

Employment after Prison: A Longitudinal Study of Releasees in Three States
Source: Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center
Available here
Summary: This report is a result of a longitudinal study conducted by the Urban Institute to learn about the employment experiences of ex-offenders and factors that influence their ability to find work post-release. The research interviews 740 male prisoners from Illinois, Ohio, and Texas, as part of the Returning Home Project, which took place between 2001-2006, and explored factors that contributed to successful reentry.
Keywords: barriers to employment, finding employment

After Prison: Roadblocks to Reentry – A Report on State Legal Barriers Facing People with Criminal Records
Source:  The Legal Action Center
Available here
Summary:  This website has a comprehensive list of legal barriers that face individuals with a criminal record in each state. Users can search by state and issue area including: Parenting, Access to Records, Drivers Licenses, Employment, Public Assistance, Public Housing, Student Loans, and Voting.  It also has report cards, which rank each state by the barriers to reentry that ex-offenders face in their jurisdiction. Finally, the webpage’s Vision for the Future section provides state and federal-level recommendations for reducing these barriers.
Keywords: barriers to employment, legal barriers to employment 

Advocacy Toolkits to Combat Legal Barriers Facing Individuals with Criminal Records
Source: Legal Action Center
Available here
Summary: The Legal Action Center has developed 12 Advocacy Toolkit that provide information on critically important policy, funding and legal issues that can be used to remove nearly all of the most harmful roadblocks to re-entry.
Keywords: barriers to employment, legal barriers to employment 

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