Last Updated: May 9, 2022

Information adapted from the Washington Appleseed Reentry Guide.

Will my conviction impact my ability to work at some jobs?

To find out whether your offense will or may disqualify you from a certain type of job, you can check the Council of State Governments Map.

There are certain crimes that would disqualify you for jobs that require unsupervised access to vulnerable adults, juveniles and children (e.g. nursing homes, in-home service providers, home care agencies, assisted living facilities and adult family houses). A list of these crimes is available online.

What can I do to prepare for job hunting (while in custody or post-release)?

Get a copy of your criminal record in one of the following ways:

Washington State Patrol (WSP)

  • Online: You can get information on convictions and on arrests that are less than one year old with dispositions pending. There is a $10-$11 fee. This option is preferred because employers can consider arrests under certain situations. Instructions on who to get these records.
  • By mail: If you request through mail, you can only get information on convictions.
    • You can send in a written Request for a Conviction Criminal History Record (form: http://www.wsp.wa.gov/crime/docs/misc/240569_request_for_chri-convicted_ criminal.pdf). The cost for mail request is $17.00. It will take between one and two weeks to get the record.
    • You can also submit a request based on full fingerprints. The cost for a fingerprint background check is $26.00. You will also have to pay your local law enforcement agency to take the fingerprints (the cost for fingerprints varies, but is between $5 and $15.) It will take between one and two weeks to get the record.

Washington Courts

You (or someone in contact with you) can conducts a free search of your history in Washington State court system here: https://kingcounty.gov/courts/clerk/access-records/records-portal.aspx

  • It is recommended to still get a copy from WSP because this search gives less information
  • For more options on how to access/obtain your criminal record, go here: https://www.aclu-wa.org/docs/getting-and-reading-criminal-history-reports-washington. Click on “download document”. The other options available include:
    • FBI (Cost $18 for application and $7-$15 for fingerprints)
    • Consumer Reporting Agency (Cost $50-$70)
    • LexisNexis or Hire Right Full File Disclosure (free if you make on request per year)
      • For more information about this service, you can call 866-312-8075.

Draft your resume that you can finalize after you are released.

Practice answering interview questions and questions about your criminal history.

A resume must include the following:

  • Your contact information (name, address, phone number, email address)
  • Employment history (list your jobs by date starting with most recent; include location, dates employed, duties, skills and achievements)
    • If you were employed while incarcerated, list “State of Washington” as your employer
  • Education (when and were you graduated/got your degree OR how long you worked toward a degree if you did not graduate/got your degree, any certificates/awards/honors/accreditations, certifications)
  • Other qualifications (e.g. languages you speak, computer knowledge, specialized skills)
  • Job Objective (explain why you are you a good fit for the specific job you are applying for)
  • References (list of three or more contacts from prior jobs who can be a good reference for you)
    • Always contact a potential reference and ask if they would be willing to be a reference for you
  • Other tips:
    • Stick to one page per 10 years of work experience
    • Only include information for the job you are looking for when listing employment history and label it as “relevant experience.” If you have other job experience, put it under “other experiences”
    • Only put your interests if they relate to the job
    • Resume should be easy to read
  • Optional: It may be helpful to attach a letter explaining your history (click here for a sample letter)

Get your ID

e.g. birth certificate, driver’s license, state ID card, social security card, military records or release/discharge from active duty form (DD-214)

Background Checks

What types of questions can an employer ask me about my criminal history?

Under the Fair Chance Act, most employers cannot ask on a job application if you have been arrested or convicted. Employers can only ask about questions about criminal matters after they determine that you qualify for the job (after you submitted your application and passed the initial screening).

Unless employers have fewer than eight employees or for jobs listed in jobs that you may be disqualified for based on the crime committed, a potential employer cannot ask you about convictions that are 10+ years old or are not reasonably related to the duties of the applied job.

If an employers asks about your arrests, they must ask:

  • Whether the charges still pending
  • Whether the charges have been dismissed
  • Whether the arrest led to a conviction of a crime involving conduct that would negatively affect job performance
  • Whether the arrest occurred within the last 10 years

How should I answer questions on a job application about my criminal record?

  1. Consult with an employment specialist.
  2. Understand what the employer is asking. A question about your felony convictions could be very different from a question about all crimes.
  3. Answer as honestly and accurately as possible
  4. If you check “yes” next to a question about criminal history, you can either
    1. Write down “will discuss during interview”
    2. Write down type of crime if you feel the crime is not serious or related to the job
    3. Can include a letter of explanation

When should I disclose information that is not asked about?

When deciding to give more information than the employer is asking for, consider the following:

  • The age and type of the conviction (the older and less serious the conviction is, the less important it is to tell the employer about it)
  • If the conviction relates to the job, describe how the conviction relates to the job you are applying for
  • Whether the employer will conduct a background check (if the employer will conduct a background check, they will find out about at least the last 7 years of convictions and arrests, so you will likely want to disclose them)

What do I say about vacated or sealed cases?

Sealed: If you were convicted as a juvenile and your court records were sealed, you do not need to disclose to the employer about the conviction. An adult conviction must be successfully vacated to be sealed.

Vacated: If you have a conviction that has been vacated, you have the right to say you were never convicted of that crime. Vacated convictions can still appear in public records and are often reported on background checks, so you should consider telling the employer about the conviction and explain it was vacated.

Do I have the right to know if an employer is conducting a background check on me?

If the employer is using a third-party, such as a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) to perform a background check, you have the right to know under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Most employers use CRA. If an employer requests a background check from a CRA< they must get your written permissions to do so. The employer is required to notify you in writing that may use the background check report to deny you employment.

If the employer is looking at court/public records or interviewing people that know you, you do not have the right to know.

What is included in an employee background check?

A CRA report will contain adult and juvenile information from all states, including federal offenses

What kinds of information is CRA prevented from including in background check reports?

If you are applying for a job with an annual salary below $75,000, CRAs are now allowed to report arrests more than seven years old that did not result in a conviction. In Washington state, if you are applying for a job with an annual salary of $20,000, CRAs cannot report arrests or convictions that are more than seven years old. CRAs also cannot report juvenile convictions if you are 21 years old when the background check occurs.

Do I have a right to know if an employer denied me employment based on a background check?

The employer must give you information once they actually deny you the job:

  • Notice of the action taken based on the information from the background report
  • Name, address, phone number of CRA that supplied the background report
  • Statement that the CRA did not make the decision to deny you a job
  • Notices of your right to challenge the accuracy or completeness and your right to request an additional free copy of the report within 60 days of when you were denied the job

What if the CRA background check report has incorrect information?c

If the background check report has inaccuracies, let the employer know and that you are contacting the CRA to correct the information. If the CRA finds inaccuracies, they must change or delete it within 30 days.

If the background check was provided by the Washington State Patrol, use the Request for Modification of Record form: https://www.wsp.wa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Request_for_Modification_of_Record.pdf

What if the CRA or employer does not follow the law regarding a background check?

Contact an attorney. Or file a complaint of the violation to the Federal Trade Commission (agency that enforces the Fair Credit Reporting Act):

  • Phone: 877-382-4357
  • Mail: Consumer Response Center Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave NE Washington DC 20580
  • Online: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1 and click “Credit and Debt” then click “Credit and Loans” then click “Credit Reporting”

Hiring and Employer’s Decision

Can an employer deny me employment because of an arrest?

No. Being arrested does not prove you were committed of a crime. However, an employer can legally make an employment decision based on the conduct underlying the arrest if the conduct makes you unfit for the job.

Can an employer deny me employment based on poor credit?

Yes, but only if the information about your credit is related to the job you are applying for. Because credit information must generally be provided by a third party, the employer must get your consent to look at your credit information. An employer must also provide you with a notice and opportunity to respond if the employer plans to deny you based on your credit.

What can I do if I am turned down from employment because of my criminal history?

If the employer did not follow the laws above, you may have grounds for a discrimination claim. You can:

  • Contact an attorney
  • Contact the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days of the violation at 800-669-4000
  • Fill out a complaint form with the Washington State Human Rights Commission and mail it within six months of the violation to 711 South Capitol Way Suite 402 PO Box 42490 Olympia WA 98504-2490

If I lose my job, how can I get unemployment benefits?

You must meet eligibility requirements. You must have worked at least 680s hours in a year in Washington, have lost your job through no fault of your own, are actively looking for a new job. To find out how many hours of covered employment you worked, contact the Employment Security Department at 800-318-6022.

To file an initial application for unemployment, the same phone number above or visit the Employment Security Department’s website to apply online. You must create an account to apply.

Your criminal record/incarceration will not affect ability to apply for unemployment benefits if you provide the following information to complete the application:

  • SSN
  • Name, birthdate, contact information
  • Highest level of education
  • Names and mailing addresses of all employers within the last 18 months
  • Dates you worked for all employers within the last 18 months
  • If you get work through a union, the name and local number of the union
  • If you were in the military within the last 18 months, your discharge information (DD-214 form)
  • If you were a federal employee within the last 18 months, your Standard Form 8 (SF8)
  • Your citizenship status or authorization information
  • The reason you became unemployed

More Education & Employment Guides

Employment Legal FAQ

Information adapted from the Washington Appleseed Reentry Guide. Will my conviction impact my ability to work at some jobs? To find out whether your offense will or may disqualify you […]

Places to Find Jobs

Local organizations that help people find jobs and online job boards, including those specifically for people who have been incarcerated.

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