Finding a job with a criminal history is frustrating (to say the least). It is not
uncommon to hear stories about relatively minor convictions from
decades ago keeping somebody from making a reasonable salary
regardless of their qualifications. Most medium and large companies
perform some type of background check before making a full-time
offer. As the cost of background checks falls even small companies
are making the investment to avoid hiring somebody who could pose a
risk to the business or their customers.
California has a few unique laws, however, that place those who have kept their nose clean on a more even playing field after seven years. This is most commonly referred to as the Seven Year Rule.
All states are subject to FCRA, or the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This might not sound like legislation that would restrict a business accessing a prospective employee's criminal background but it is. If you read the summary of the Act you might be encouraged to know that the law restricts "Consumer Reporting Agencies" (the companies that most companies buy their criminal background checks from) from reporting outdated negative information, usually for anything older than ten years.
Unfortunately, though, the Act has been amended to specifically exclude criminal convictions (though it does provide some relief for arrest records older than seven years). There is a lot more information in the Act but basically it doesn't help out those who are looking for a job with a felony much at all. This is where the Seven Year Rule comes in.
California's Seven Year Rule
This is where California stands out. While eleven states have 7-year rules stating that employers cannot ask about criminal convictions older than seven years California is the only state that does not have an income exemption. If you are in Washington, for example, they exempt a company from the 7-Year Rule if the job pays more than $20k/year. You read that right - if you are interviewing to be a well-paid fry cook making $21k/year they may look back 50 years if they want to find a conviction.
Seven years from what?
Good question. It turns out this isn't very easy to define, but in general you are safe if you had completed your sentence, paid your fine and finished parole or probation more than seven years ago. If you were recently charged with a crime this can be disheartening, but look on the bright side: there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This is huge. I cannot tell you how many people I have met who cannot find gainful employment decades after a felony conviction.
If you have been off of probation or parole for less than seven years this presents some challenges. Finding a job is never easy with a criminal record (see employment for felons). Usually small companies will be more understanding if you are honest and explain your conviction. Some may not even ask whether you have been convicted of a crime or do a background check.
A lot of people with criminal records who are not able to find jobs create their own job by starting a company. Without access to capital this might sound difficult but there are a lot of small businesses that can be started without any money.
Other employer background check restrictions in California
The 7-Year Rule is only one limitation placed on employers doing background checks in California. They are also not permitted to inquire about charges not resulting in a conviction unless the charges are still pending. Any conviction which has been fully pardoned also cannot be considered. Employers also may not inquire about marijuana convictions that are more than two years old or any juvenile convictions.
Any prospective candidate who is not hired as a result of a background or credit report has the right to be notified of the company's findings.