In November 2023, the governor of New York signed the Clean Slate Act to help prevent discrimination when hiring those with previous criminal convictions who have completed their sentences. New York becomes one of at least a dozen states to pass similar laws. Employers should review current background check policies to ensure fair hiring.
Let’s discuss the impact of sealed criminal convictions on employment background checks.
Understanding Sealed Convictions When Running Background Checks
When a conviction is sealed, it is not visible to the general public and does not appear on a criminal background check. This is done to give individuals with criminal records a fresh start and an opportunity to reintegrate into society without the stigma of their past actions. Sealed convictions are typically granted for non-violent offenses or after a certain period of time has passed since the conviction.
Under New York’s Clean Slate Act:
…eligible misdemeanor convictions will be sealed “at least three years” after—or, for felony convictions, “at least eight years” after—an individual’s “release from incarceration or the imposition of sentence if there was no sentence of incarceration.” 1
Eligible offenses do not include sexual assault or any Class A felonies. If the individual commits another crime, the clock starts over. If the sealed conviction is disclosed, the individual also has the right to collect damages.
Ensuring a Safe Work Environment And Fair Hiring
In the case of sealed convictions, employment background checks may not provide a complete picture of an individual's criminal history. Employers need to be aware of this limitation and consider other factors when assessing a candidate's suitability. Balancing the need to protect the safety and security of the workplace with the rights of individuals with sealed convictions can be a delicate matter.
It is important for employers to consult with legal professionals to understand the specific laws and regulations in their jurisdiction and to develop appropriate policies and procedures for handling sealed convictions. Some of those policies may include:
Employers must establish clear and consistent policies regarding the use of criminal records in employment decisions. By having a transparent and fair process in place, employers can ensure compliance with legal requirements and treat all candidates with respect and fairness.