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Ask HR: Should I Reveal My Felony Conviction During a Job Search?

A man in a suit and tie.
​Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 

I recently ran into a former co-worker who suggested I'd be a good fit for a position with her current company. However, since I last saw her, I've had a minor felony conviction. How should I approach letting her know? When in the process should I disclose this information?—Don

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I applaud your willingness to be candid about your past, but want you to be very smart and intentional about when and if you disclose your conviction. Frankly, I subscribe to "don't ask—don't tell" when it comes to disclosing former arrests or convictions in the interview process.

Many employers don't care about an employee's criminal history and therefore they don't ask at any point during the hiring process; if you can do the work and are aligned with their culture, they will hire you. So there's no point to you bringing up an issue that is not relevant to the employer or your ability to do the job.

But even for those employers who will inquire about your criminal background, many only want to go back for a specified period of time, usually 5-7 years. In fact, many states forbid employers from going back more than 7-10 years.

Depending on the nature of your relationship with your former colleague, you may want to discuss your situation with her especially if she plans on being a reference for you. You don't have to go into detail about your conviction, but she might be able to provide insight into the company's hiring practices and point out any obstacles or restrictions your conviction may present in securing the position.

Assuming the employer will, at some point in the hiring process, ask about your criminal conviction, it is better to get out in front of the issue by bringing up your conviction during the interview process. This will demonstrate that you are forthright and transparent and affords you the space to give context to the offense. The last thing you want is for the hiring manager to later discover it from another source and draw his or her own conclusion or worse appear to be deceitful.

While you should address your conviction, don't focus on the details of your offense. If you have already established yourself in the workplace post-conviction, highlight your success in returning to work. Be sure to steer the conversation back around to your experience and acumen and away from any negative feelings about your past.

Keep in mind, employers may not hire you, depending on the nature and gravity of the offense or conduct as well as the time passed since the conviction, conduct and/or completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job held or sought.

Don't be discouraged though. In the current labor market, many employers are more open to hiring people from untapped talent pools including those with criminal histories.

I hope you find a deserving job opportunity.

A group of co-workers regularly and vigorously discuss politics around the office. When I have an opposing viewpoint to their position, I feel uncomfortable engaging with them in political discourse. Should I approach them or someone else about my concerns?—Dimitry

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: You certainly are not alone in your feeling. More than one-third of employees say their workplace is not inclusive about differing political opinions, and 1 in 10 say they have personally experienced differential treatment because of political views or political affiliation bias.

Employers have traditionally discouraged workplace conversations around politics, religion and other hot-button issues. With the emergence of employee activism, some employers are now welcoming discussions around topics, like politics, once thought to be taboo. It would help to understand your organization's stance on political discourse in the workplace. Also, consider whether you are comfortable discussing uncomfortable topics with your colleagues.

Should you decide to join the conversation, be mindful of your approach. Avoid joining the discussion if you intend to disprove another's opinion, debate or win an argument. Instead, have an open mind and remain judgment free. Be as open to hearing their perspective as you would in sharing your own. Depending on your relationship with this group of co-workers, you may decide to address your concerns over these political discussions. There will likely be disagreements, but how you disagree is what matters. Be respectful and civil. Often, just making others aware of your concern can help de-escalate an issue.

But if you would rather not participate in those conversations at all, simply explain your preference not to discuss politics in the workplace to your co-workers.  

If you receive push-back or feel like their political conversations may not be in line with company policies, speak with Human Resources about your concerns.

I hope your workplace can be a safe space for you and your co-workers.