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Limited scope of Georgia’s ‘First offender’ law

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in Employment Background Check,Human Resources

Q.  We recently rejected an applicant for employment after a background check revealed that he was fired from a previous job for stealing. He has since advised us that he received “first offender” treatment for the crime, and that the rejection therefore violates his rights. Is he correct?

A. No. Under Georgia law, a criminal defendant who pleads guilty may be placed on probation without entry of a judgment of guilt. Such a defendant who successfully completes the terms and conditions of his probation is “discharged,” meaning that he is “not considered to have a criminal conviction.” Because a discharge under this “first offender” law is not a criminal conviction, it “may not be used to disqualify a person in any application for employment ... in either the public or private sector.”

Contrary to what your applicant appears to believe, however, nothing in this law prohibits an employer from rejecting an applicant (or disciplining or discharging an employee) on the basis of the same underlying conduct that led to the arrest, guilty plea and first offender treatment. In other words, while it would constitute a violation of the law for your company to deny employment to this applicant because he pleaded guilty to stealing, it would not be unlawful to reject this applicant because he stole from his prior employer.

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