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Will a past misdemeanor show up in an employer background check? Ask HR

© Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc.

By Johnny C. Taylor Jr., USA TODAY

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human-resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society.

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: I spent 75 days in jail for a misdemeanor charge for something I did when I was 20, more than a decade ago. I am still very ashamed of my behavior, which was out of character for me. I was denied a job when I was 25 because of it.  Many years have passed, and I have since built a solid work history. Do you think this will still come up on an employment background check, even though it was more than 10 years ago? – Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: Your more than 10-year-old misdemeanor charge is unlikely to come up in an employment background check – partly because it was a misdemeanor charge and not a felony, and because of the time that has passed. For most companies, background checks go back just seven years and, increasingly, employers are not considering misdemeanor charges.

So, given this general employer practice and your solid work history since, you can hope to put this behind you.

Ninety-two percent of employers conduct background checks, and most of these do criminal background checks. But use often depends on the industry and job.

Employers in some industries are required to follow regulations about hiring those with felony convictions, while others – like some in the construction industry – conduct a criminal background check only when they feel it could affect the safety of employees or the company.

The real estate industry, understandably, has the highest use of criminal background checks. The financial services industry and businesses filling jobs that handle money, as you might imagine, pay close attention to theft convictions.

If you find you are not getting an offer after a successful interview and the reason for your conviction is not related to the duties of the job, you should ask politely why you didn’t get an offer.

It’s possible that a potential employer could find out about your long-ago transgression. But more than half of employers allow job candidates to explain the results of their criminal background checks before a decision on hiring is made. So, if you are concerned about your background, it is wise to be honest and transparent in an interview, explaining that you paid for your mistake and how you have learned from it.

A criminal record on its own should never be viewed as an automatic disqualification for employment.

Q: Our organization’s leaders say they want changes to improve operational efficiency.  However, there is major pushback against changes that support accountability such as better workforce management through metrics and standardized operational reporting.  In short, being an effective change agent is difficult.  What are some tools to help administrators embrace change and support efforts from the top down? – Anonymous

Taylor: Saying you want to change and actually changing are two different things, as you have found. But it is possible for organizations to change, and you can help guide your leaders through it.

Priorities for change must align with areas in your organization that senior leaders believe need improvement. Often, as in your example, senior business leaders are interested in new ideas that positively affect the bottom line. They also want a clear understanding of the potential costs involved.



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