When making personnel decisions — including hiring, retention, promotion, and reassignment — employers sometimes want to consider the backgrounds of applicants and employees. Except for certain restrictions related to medical and genetic information, it is not illegal for an employer to ask questions about an applicants or employees background, or to require a background check. But the employer cannot conduct background checks or use the information obtained in a manner that denies equal employment opportunity to anyone on a protected basis, by intent or by unlawful disparate impact.

Federal law does not prohibit employers from asking about your criminal history. But, federal EEO laws do prohibit employers from discriminating when they use criminal history information.

The fact that an individual was arrested is not proof that he engaged in criminal conduct. Therefore, an individual’s arrest record standing alone may not be used by an employer to take a negative employment action (e.g., not hiring, firing or suspending an applicant or employee). However, an arrest may trigger an inquiry into whether the conduct underlying the arrest justifies such action.

In contrast, a conviction record will usually be sufficient to demonstrate that a person engaged in particular criminal conduct. In certain circumstances, however, there may be reasons for an employer not to rely on the conviction record alone when making an employment decision.

Several states’ laws limit employers’ use of arrest and conviction records to make employment decisions. These laws may prohibit employers from asking about arrest records or require employers to wait until late in the hiring process to ask about conviction records. If you have questions about these kinds of laws, you should contact your state fair employment agency for more information.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)