Employers 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.