Research Puts 5-Year Expiration Date on Criminal Records Used for Background Checks

green_alarm_clockEmployers who conduct background checks on candidates must be careful to comply with a variety of governing laws.  A particularly hot topic in this area is criminal-background checks. Many (if not most) mid- and large-sized businesses in the U.S. are performing background checks, including criminal-history reports, on at least some job candidates.  But criminal histories can be complicated.  The EEOC has quite a bit to say about what you do with the information you receive in response to these requests.  (See How Considering a Candidate’s Arrest Records Could Land You In EEOC Jail; Potential Delaware Judge’s Criminal Record Raises Questions for State Senate).

One of the EEOC’s concerns is the length of time that has passed since the crime occurred and the sentence imposed. Generally, employers should not consider a criminal histories that are more than 7 years old.  There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. As far as I’m aware, the EEOC’s 7-year rule is not tied to empirical data that supports seven as the magic number.

But a recent study by Carnegie Mellon provides the science that may be key to answering the question, How long does an individual have to be “clean” before he can be considered “redeemed” for employment purposes. According to the study, 5 years.  The study estimates that, after five years without a run-in with the law, an ex-convict is no more likely to commit another crime than other citizens of the same age.  Most committed new crimes within the first few years after their arrest, perhaps adding legitimacy to the use of criminal records in the first place.  But only a small number of those studied were re-arrested after that 5-year mark.

Many states already have legal limits on the use of criminal histories by employers. Some states prohibit their use altogether. Others require the employer to disclose their request to the candidate prior to receiving the records.  And some impose expiration dates–just in case the EEOC Guidance isn’t persuasive enough.  This study may encourage other states to put limits on the length of time that a criminal history can be considered for the purposes of hiring decisions.

4 thoughts on “Research Puts 5-Year Expiration Date on Criminal Records Used for Background Checks

  1. Question: Who exactly commits workplace crime, hired ex-cons or employees with clean criminal back grounds? It is employees with clean criminal back grounds. I did 20 years in prison, and when I finally found a job I was shocked to see people who have never been to jail let alone prison, engaged in all types of immoral acts: cursed, smoked weed & drank alcohol(on the job)cheated on spouses, stole office supplies (pens, paper, etc.,)a trainer was charged with sexual harrassment and sued. Yes, these were people who had clean “criminal” back grounds. what they didn’t have was a clean “moral” back ground. I knew convicts with more integrity and moral fiber than alot of my co-workers who would make excellent employees if given a chance. So I really question this checking of back grounds.


  2. Many states nowadays are aware of the importance of the background check. At least I know that California and Oklahoma provide state-run websites for such purposes.


  3. Although the study is an excellent first attempt at applying science to the notion that criminal records may have a limited shelf life when it comes to relevancy to employment, it is a big leap in logic to conclude the this small and very limited study in any way can be the basis for social policy. The study was very limited and by its own admission, had drawbacks. In addition, there were a host of factors not considered. Although there is a temptation for the press to take “sound bites” from the findings, it is abundantly clear from the authors of the study themselves that this is only a beginning. The authors were clear that much more study was needed and that there are substantial issues still to be addressed. The study also contained a number of flaws and unstated assumptions that need to be investigated. For a summary of why this study is only in its embryonic stage, see:


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