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Ask job applicants about felony convictions, but be careful

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in Human Resources

Q. We are reviewing our employment application, which includes a question about felony convictions. We have been told that we should not ask about an applicant’s arrest record. Can you explain what we can ask and what we cannot ask? We are a relatively small company, with fewer than 100 employees. — C.T.

A. Some states have specific laws regarding employers’ requests for information about conviction records, so if you hire in different states be sure to check the laws in each location. Michigan has no specific statute on the subject.

The EEOC and Michigan Department of Civil Rights take the position that you can ask about felony convictions, but recommend that the application state on its face that a prior conviction does not automatically preclude consideration for employment.

If you reject the applicant because of a prior conviction, you should have some job-related reason. The rationale is that minorities would be disqualified from jobs at a higher rate than non-minorities if felony convictions were used as a blanket reason to disqualify all applicants. You cannot ask about arrests that did not result in convictions unless the charges are still pending. The size of your organization is irrelevant.

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