Feb 17 2014
It is no surprise to employers that many applicants have experienced some legal issues in their lives. Formal job applications still ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime, and you typically authorize the employer to perform a background check when you sign that form. But just because you satisfied the courts’ requirements, the offense happened a long time ago, or you think the statute of limitations make the details irrelevant, your butt could still get bit from your past actions.
Many erroneously assume that arrest issues can no longer come back to haunt you in your job/job search after fines and restitution are paid, jail time – if any – has been served, and the matter has been cleared up to the courts’ satisfaction. Not true! An arrest, regardless of a conviction, becomes part of the public record, and the companies that perform background checks will likely have no trouble discovering your past.
If an arrest does come up from that authorized background check, you will need to convince the employer you weren’t trying to hide anything by not revealing this information in your application, and that the matter is no longer relevant, fines were paid, your record was cleared or expunged. It also helps to stress that your behaviors have improved and similar events will not happen again. However, major or minor offense, felony or misdemeanor, if you have been arrested, it is truly best to reveal your circumstances in a private meeting with the employer. Even if you believe your record was cleared, or you were arrested and never charged, honesty is the best policy. Remember the employer just wants to be confident that you can be trusted to do the job you’re applying for and that you will not do harm to yourself or other people or their property.
For better or worse, thanks to the internet, arrest records and mug shots can be easily searched. So if a background check paints an image of an applicant the employer does not like, it can keep you from getting hired, it can halt a promotion, and it can get you fired!
Complicating matters further are the internet companies that profit from the reposting of public arrest records and mug shots of arrestees, without their knowledge or permission. These websites mostly operate legally using content curated from public records, and they charge a hefty fee to remove an arrestee’s image. To me, this is tantamount to holding one’s reputation hostage!
The existence of a mug shot does not prove that a person committed any crime, and people get arrested without being formally charged. A mug shot should not be the cause of an applicant being denied employment, nor an employee to be terminated. But it happens too frequently!
If there is an upside to this, when information is accurate we can learn more about the people in whom we put our trust and safety; like research our children’s teachers, the baby sitters, those running for public office, and do background checks on prospective employees. But by itself, this information only paints a partial picture and should never be considered gospel. Always get additional and current substantiating information to back up any claims, or fears, before making accusations or harsh judgments.
But if you’re the one with the mug shot, especially one that portrays you inaccurately and dishonestly, you need to take action. In addition to possibly suing those who deliberately posted inaccurate information about you, you have some other responsibilities.
Talk to a criminal attorney about how best to proceed. Laws on this subject differ from state to state, so it’s best to talk with knowledgeable professionals. There are legal aid services and agencies that specialize in working with ex-offenders who can provide information and referrals for your situation.
You may have to pay to have those photos removed from websites, and this could get very costly as there are multiple sites that post mug shots.
Get letters of reference from former employers and coworkers going back to the time of, or before the arrest that attest to your achievements, contributions and responsibilities.
Get as much substantiating evidence as possible to prove the inaccuracy of the posted records. The more evidence you can present to prove your innocence or the inaccuracy of any charges against you, the better.
Be honest with your (prospective) employers.
Stay out of trouble!
Contact your elected representatives to express your concerns if you believe companies shouldn’t be allowed to deliberately post defamatory, inaccurate and incomplete information and profit from others’ hardships and mistakes.
As has been said in this space before, protect your privacy and your personal information, and be vigilant about tamping down any misleading information about you. It really is the best way to keep your butt from getting bit.
For more ideas on job search, overcoming obstacles and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit: hanklondon.com or contact me.