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Criminal Barriers to Employment

What's on my Criminal Record?

To find out information about your criminal record, you will need to obtain a copy of your California Department of Justice (DOJ) RAP sheet, which details your record of arrests and prosecutions across all counties in California. You can also obtain a FBI RAP sheet which details records outside of California.

If you are working with a public defender, they can get a copy of your RAP sheet for you. Otherwise, visit this site to find out how to obtain your RAP sheet.

This website has helpful information about how to read your RAP sheet.

While employers are not able to see your RAP sheet, they may run a background check to see any misdemeanor and felony convictions that have not been sealed or expunged. It’s important to know what’s on your RAP sheet to be aware of what employers may see when they run a background check, and what they won’t see.

RAP sheets often contain mistakes so it’s important to get these fixed before employers run a background check. Visit this site to see common errors on RAP sheets and how you can fix them.

Cleaning up Your Record

Visit this site for information on why cleaning up your record is beneficial and how to do it. Be sure to read this section on Certificates of Rehabilitation.

Write down the steps you can take to clean up your record.

If You Have a Criminal Conviction Within the Last Seven Years...

Effective 2018, private employers (with 5 or more employees) cannot ask questions about your criminal record prior to making an offer of conditional employment, or a job offer that is conditional upon a background check.

This does not apply to:

  • A position for which a state or local agency is required by law to conduct a conviction history background check;

  • A position with a criminal justice agency;

  • A position as a Farm Labor Contractor; or

  • A position where an employer or agent is required by any state, federal, or local law to conduct criminal background checks for employment purposes or to restrict employment based on criminal history. Find examples here.

Employers can ask about convictions after making a conditional job offer, but can’t automatically exclude applicants solely because they have a criminal conviction. If they intend to reject someone at least partly because of their criminal conviction, they must perform an individualized assessment to consider:

  • Whether the applicant’s conviction history has a direct and adverse relationship with the specific job duties;

  • The nature and gravity of the offense or conduct;

  • The time that has passed since the offense or conduct and completion of the sentence; and

  • The nature of the job held or sought.

If the employer decides to reject the applicant, they must notify them of a preliminary decision in writing. They do not need to include the reason for rejection, but must include:

  1. Notice of the disqualifying conviction or convictions that are the basis for the preliminary employment decision to rescind the offer;

  2. A copy of the conviction history report, if any; and

  3. An explanation of the applicant’s right to respond to the notice of the employer’s preliminary decision before that decision becomes final and the deadline by which to respond.

The explanation will have info on how the applicant can submit:

  • Evidence that challenges the information in the conviction history report,

  • Evidence of rehabilitation, or

  • Evidence of mitigating circumstances

After receiving this notification, the applicant will have five business days to respond to the notice before the employer can make a final decision. If there are inaccuracies in the conviction history report, and the applicant notifies the employer that they will obtain evidence of this, they will have five additional business days to respond to the notice with evidence.

The employer then will make a final decision, and if they decide to reject the applicant they must notify them of:

  1. The final denial or disqualification;

  2. Any existing procedure the employer has for the applicant to challenge the decision or request reconsideration; and

  3. The right to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

Can an Employer Discriminate if...

If You Have a Criminal Conviction Older Than Last Seven Years...

Criminal background checks conducted in California only go back seven years (with some exceptions). Convictions older than this will not show and cannot be used to disqualify job candidates.

If You Have a Criminal Conviction That Has Been Expunged...

Employers cannot consider your conviction in making their hiring decision.

If You Have a Criminal History that did not End in Conviction...

If you have a criminal history such as arrest not ending in conviction employers cannot consider this in making hiring decisions.

If an Employer Violates These Rules

If an employer asks you about your criminal record during the interview process, you do not have to answer. However, you may want to tread carefully with how you phrase this as some employers may react badly to being “called out”. They are likely to run a background check at some point so it is typically better to give an honest response, and turn your response into an opportunity to show how you have grown since your conviction. Some examples of how to respond are…

I do have a misdemeanor that I am taking steps to have expunged. There is nothing in my past that will affect my ability to be successful in this position.

As of 2018 it’s illegal to ask about my criminal record. However, to be transparent I do have a past record, but I have changed and grown since this experience and do not believe it will in any way affect my ability to do this job.

You may decide to file a complaint or charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or California Civil Rights Department website. Find out more information on time limits for filing at these sites.

Incentives for Employers to Hire Ex-Offenders

 The Federal Bonding Program provides free bonds for job seekers with a past record for the first six months of employment. This bond provides assurance to the employer that any losses caused by the bonded employee will be covered.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is a tax credit available to employers that hire individuals in a difficult-to-hire group (such as welfare recipients, disabled veterans, or ex-offenders).

Other Considerations

Online Reputation

Employers may search your name online to look for any “red flags”. It is a good idea to search your name on and see if anything negative or untrue comes up. If there is something that may reflect badly on you, you can email whoever posted the information asking them to remove it, though there is no guarantee they will do so. You may also want to change your social media profiles to “private” if there is any unsavory post history you wouldn’t want an employer to see.


Many employers will want at least two references that can speak to your hirable qualities and skills. It’s a good idea to ask these people in advance if they are willing to be a reference for you, and to make sure you are on good terms and they are not likely to say negative things about you.

More Resources

Humboldt 2nd Chance (H2CP Program)


Address: 445 W.  Washington

Phone: 707-441-4600 or 707-268-3479

Services: Partnership between DHHS and Law Enforcement which uses an earn to learn program model and provides a full range of workforce services to formerly incarcerated individuals, including; vocational training, work experience, subsidized wage programs to help previously incarcerated back to work.

California Conservation Corp

Address:1500 Alamar Way, Fortuna, CA

Phone: 707-725-5106

Services: Fire and Environmental Work for 18-25 Y/O or 18-29 Y/O if a veteran.


America’s Job Center – The Job Market

Address: 409 K Street, Eureka CA

Phone: 707-441-5627

Services: Programs for formerly incarcerated individuals including bonding and placement with local companies and training.


Local Companies that have been known to employ felons (on a case by case individual basis depending on convictions and how long since conviction):  

  • PepsiCo, UPS (Seasonal workers, package loaders, drivers helpers), FedEx, Fastenal, McDonalds, City of Eureka, County of Humboldt, FoxFarm, Costco, St. Josephs Hospital,  CVS,  Staples,  Walmart, The Gap, Goodwill and many of the local motels and hotels for Room Attendants and Maintenance

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