A crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state or other authority.The term crime does not, in modern criminal law, have any simple and universally accepted definition, though statutory definitions have been provided for certain purposes.

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What is this about:The California Fair Chance Act requires employers to make a conditional offer of employment before considering an applicant’s criminal history. On October 1, 2023, new regulations by the California Civil Rights Department went into effect regarding how employers can use information about an applicant’s criminal history to rescind a conditional offer.
Effective date:October 1, 2023
What this means:Before a conditional offer can be rescinded, a California employer must perform an individualized assessment as to whether the applicant’s criminal history “has a direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job that justify denying the applicant the position.” (California Code of Regulations Section 11017.1(c)(1)).

The specific requirements for the individualized assessment must include, at a minimum, consideration of the following factors: •     the nature and gravity of the offense or conduct;
•     the time that has passed since the offense or conduct occurred or the completion of the sentence;
•     the nature of the job held or sought.  

If, after the individualized assessment, the employer makes a preliminary decision to revoke the conditional offer, the employer must notify the applicant in writing of the preliminary decision. The notice (which can be part of the pre-adverse action notice) must include all the following information:

•     the conviction(s) that were the basis for the preliminary decision;
•     a copy of the information relied on for the decision;
•     statement that the applicant or their representative has the right (but is not required) to respond before the decision becomes final, including challenging the information’s accuracy and submitting evidence of rehabilitation or mitigating circumstances;
•     the deadline to respond (no less than five business days after receipt of the notice, and email notice is considered received two business days after it is sent).  

If the applicant timely notifies the employer in writing that additional time is needed to respond, the applicant must be given at least five additional business days to respond to the notice before the employer’s preliminary decision becomes final.  

The new regulations also expressly prohibit employers from (1) mandating that the applicant respond to the notice or provide information or (2) refusing to consider any information provided by the applicant.   The employer must notify the applicant in writing of any final decision to rescind the offer and include information regarding available procedures to challenge the decision and the right to contest the decision by filing a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department.    
Why this matters:Violations of the new regulations can result in damages for failure to consider the new criminal evaluation factors, including back pay, front pay, and hiring or reinstatement.
What else still matters:City of Los Angeles Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring Ordinance (FCIHO)  

•     The FCIHO applies broadly to businesses in the city that employ at least 10 people, with certain exceptions.
•     Employers may not ask about an applicant’s record until a conditional offer of employment has been extended.
•     After learning of an applicant’s record, employers must perform an individualized assessment and consider factors including (i) the age of the offense, (ii) the nature of the offense, and (iii) specific duties of the job sought. Written notice must be provided to applicants.
•     The ordinance provides aggrieved job applicants a private right of action.  

City & County of San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance (FCO)  

•     The FCO applies to employers with 5 or more employees worldwide and all City contractors, subcontractors, and leaseholders.
•     Employers may not conduct a background check or ask about criminal records until after making a conditional offer of employment.
•     After learning of an applicant’s record, an employer shall conduct an individualized assessment, considering only (i) directly related convictions, (ii) the time that has elapsed since the conviction or unresolved arrest, and (iii) any evidence of inaccuracy or evidence of rehabilitation or other mitigating factors.
•     The employer must provide the applicant with a copy of the FCO Notice and background check report. The applicant has seven days to respond for the purpose of correcting the record, providing evidence of rehabilitation, or any other mitigating factors.
•     Applicants may bring a civil action against the employer or other person violating this FCO.  
Best practices:California state law, the FCIHO, and FCO all require employers to make a conditional offer of employment before considering an applicant’s criminal history. As a best practice, employers should consider using a two-step process when obtaining a background check report. The first step involves obtaining all non-criminal checks, such as a review of the applicant’s employment and educational history. The second step involves obtaining the applicant’s criminal record history after a conditional offer of employment is made.  

Several other cities and Hawaii have enacted “ban-the-box” or “fair chance laws” that require a conditional offer of employment be made to applicants before a criminal background check can be made.  
How SI can help:Experienced in preparing background check reports using a two-step process, SI makes the process seamless. We can also provide sample adverse action notices and other guidance.

Disclaimer: This communication is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. No recipient should act or refrain from acting based on any information provided here without advice from a qualified attorney licensed in the applicable jurisdiction.

Most are familiar with the two-step process for employment background check reports required by the New York City Fair Chance Act (FCA). The first step is performing searches of all relevant records, excluding all records disclosing criminal history information.

Although nearly all state laws include criminal offense levels divided into two types – felonies and misdemeanors – there are many states with offense levels peculiar to their state law. One such peculiarity is Minnesota’s petty misdemeanor offense level.

In Minnesota, a petty misdemeanor is the lowest level of offense. Many but not all Minnesota traffic violations are petty misdemeanors. The unique aspect of a petty misdemeanor is that it is not considered a crime. (See for yourself here: Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 4a or the accompanying attachment.) A petty misdemeanor does not carry a jail sentence but can result in a fine of up to $300.

For California employers concerned about hiring sex offenders, there are a few important points to keep in mind.

An employer has a duty to keep the workplace free of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination under state law. Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), an employer can face significant liability if it knowingly employs a sex offender and fails to take actions to protect its other employees from unlawful behavior by that person.

To avoid this problem, employers would like to know if they are hiring a registered sex offender. But how can they find out?

Since 2005, the state has operated a Megan’s Law website with a database to obtain access to the state’s list of more than 100,000 registered sex offenders. Created to help state residents better protect their families by being able to search for an individual registrant or by geographic location, the site (https://www.meganslaw.ca.gov/Default.aspx) contains the sex offender’s name, aliases, age, gender, race, address, physical description and, in some cases, a photograph.

While the site would appear to be a boon for employers, state law expressly forbids use of the state’s sex offender registry information for employment purposes. California Penal Code section 209.46(l)(2)(E) prohibits the use of information disclosed on the website for purposes relating to health insurance, insurance, loans, credit, education, housing, and employment, among other uses.

Statutory exceptions provide for use “to protect a person at risk,” a term not defined by the Penal Code, as well as for employers required by law or authorized to request criminal history from the California Department of Justice. Examples of businesses that meet this standard may include child care centers, financial institutions, and governmental agencies.

An employer who runs afoul of the Penal Code’s prohibition can face actual and exemplary damages, attorneys’ fees, and a civil fine. Legislative history explains that the website attempts to protect the public while not inflicting additional punishment on registrants.

For employers trying to walk the fine line of protecting other employees and third parties, such as customers, from potential sex offender registrant employees while not violating the Penal Code, two alternate avenues exist to try to find out information about a sex offender: conviction records and employee/applicant self-disclosure.

Following applicable state and federal law, employers can conduct a criminal background check on applicants and employees and learn of a sex offense conviction. (However, convictions past the seven-year cut-off date in California may not appear on a background check report while the individual may still appear in the sex offender registry). An applicant or employee may also self-disclose a conviction.

Providing another wrinkle for California employers, the state’s Fair Chance Act took effect on January 1, 2018, mandating that employers with five or more employees must wait until after a conditional offer of employment has been made to ask any questions about criminal history. This includes inquiries about convictions, running a background check, or other efforts to find out about an applicant’s criminal past. 

If the employer decides not to hire the applicant, it must conduct an individualized assessment of the conviction at issue to evaluate whether it has a “direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job that justify denying the applicant the position.” Other legal requirements, based on both state and federal law, must also be satisfied if an employer takes an adverse action on the basis of the background check (see our prior blog post (https://www.scherzer.com/reminder-to-california-employers-about-requirements-when-taking-adverse-action-based-on-a-criminal-record/) for more details).

What if an employer learns that an employee is a registered sex offender from another employee’s perusal of the Megan’s Law website? This situation could trigger liability under section 290.46 and employers should be careful to take action only after evaluating any potential risk the sex offender employee may pose to coworkers or customers, considering all the facts and circumstances.

A “disposition” is the final outcome of a case, regardless of what it is called. Here is a list of typical criminal case dispositions.

Guilty or Conviction: This is the worst possible disposition if you are the defendant. It means that the case was heard and decided against you. With a conviction, the court will impose a sentence that may include jail time, probation, and paying a fine and court fees.

Not Guilty: The case actually proceeds to a trial, where a jury (or a judge in certain types of cases) decides that the evidence against the defendant was insufficient for a conviction. It does not mean the defendant was innocent – just that the case was heard and decided in the defendant’s favor.

Dismissal: A dismissal is entered when the court determines that the case should not move forward for some reason. There are many reasons for dismissals. For instance, there can be procedural errors, a lack of proper jurisdiction over the type of case, or the prosecutor decides to dismiss the charges (see below).

Nolle Prosequi or Nolle Prosse: A Latin phrase meaning “no more prosecution.” This is another way of saying that a case is dismissed by the prosecutor. This approach is often used when a defendant may agree to plead guilty to a lesser offense that guarantees the prosecution a conviction for a related offense, in exchange for the prosecutor “dismissing” the more serious charge.

Job applicants often disclose criminal convictions during the application process. It may seem logical that we can include the disclosed record in our background reports. After all, we are simply verifying what the subject already disclosed, right? 

Actually, it’s wrong. The subject’s disclosure of a criminal conviction does not affect our reporting obligations under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) or similar state laws. Our background reports must always comply with these laws regardless of what is disclosed to us. Under the FCRA, convictions can appear in a report regardless of when they occurred. Most states follow this rule, but several do not. California, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Mexico, New York, New Hampshire, and Washington, all limit the reporting of a criminal conviction to seven years after the conviction occurred. The District of Columbia sets a 10-year reporting limit. 

Typically, an arrest record will show the date, arresting agency, and the subject’s name (and other identifiers such as DOB and address), without specifying the charge or charges. The reason for this is twofold: (1) until the district attorney (“DA”) files a criminal case, there are no charges; and (2) the charges filed by the DA may be different than the charges on which the arresting officer based the arrest. An “arrest” and “being charged with a crime” are different things (although obviously related).  An “arrest” means that a person is taken into custody because they have been accused either by a warrant or by probable cause of committing a crime. Once in custody, the prosecutor’s office will decide whether the person will be charged with a crime. The person will then be given a charging document (complaint or information) that will state what charges they are facing.

A record will never show that an arrest was “dropped.” At best, you can infer that no charges were filed after an arrest if there is no corresponding court case.

As explained in our previous posts, the most serious offenses are categorized as “felonies” and less serious as “misdemeanors.”  While this is true in nearly every state, there is an exception (of course) and that exception is New Jersey.

In New Jersey, crimes are not categorized as felonies and misdemeanors but as “indictable crimes,” “disorderly person offenses,” and “petty disorderly person offenses.”

According to New Jersey law, indictable offenses are the equivalent of felonies in other states. Courts classify charges into first, second, third, and fourth-degree charges. A first-degree offense is the most serious of all charges. “Indictable” means that a grand jury has found enough evidence against the defendant to make them face trial.

“Disorderly person offenses” and “petty disorderly person offenses” (sometimes referred to as “DP offenses”) are the equivalent of misdemeanors in other states because they are less serious offenses and are punishable by less than one year in jail.

Previously, we emphasized the limitations that several states and the District of Columbia place on reporting criminal convictions even though a job applicant discloses the conviction during the application process. What about limitations on reporting disclosed criminal records that do not result a conviction? Criminal records of non-convictions include: 

  • Arrest record (no charges filed) 
  • Dismissed charges 
  • Not guilty verdicts 
  • Deferred prosecution (no plea entered, and charges dismissed if conditions met) 
  • Nolle prosequi or nolle prosse (not prosecuted) 

Although the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) permits convictions to be reported regardless of when the conviction occurred, the FCRA limits the time for reporting non-convictions. Records of non-convictions are reportable for seven years from the earliest file date for the record and can appear on a background report for seven years. After seven years, the record cannot be reported unless the candidate is or will be earning more than $75k annually.

The FCRA seven-year rule applies in all states except California, Kentucky, New York, and New Mexico. These states prohibit reporting any records non-convictions, regardless of date of the record. California, New York, and New Mexico provide an exception for records of pending criminal cases.