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Is it Illegal to Ask about Criminal History on Job Applications?

In past years it was common for potential employers to ask about criminal history on applicants. However, in recent years this standard has begun to evolve. Since 2011, eleven states have imposed a law against inquiring into criminal history in this first round of hiring. Many similar bills are pending as this movement gains momentum.

Companies often have legitimate reasons for inquiring after criminal history, such as filtering out individuals who may be at a risk for security or who have created crimes that would affect day to day business, productivity, and profit.  While these reasons for criminal history investigation are legitimate, the rationale behind disallowing criminal inquiries on job applications is to allow ex-offenders and opportunity to successfully re-enter society. This ban creates a conflict between screening out employment risks versus the need to find jobs for ex-offenders.

According to legislative findings by Newark, New Jersey’s City Council or 1 in 4 adults have a criminal record. While this ban allows ex-offenders to get past the first round of applications, it doesn’t impact the remainder of the hiring process.

States that ban criminal history inquiries on applications are:

  • California
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington

Newark, New Jersey is the only city that has also prohibited criminal history information on applications.

If your state has banned criminal history inquiries on applications, contact KPA at with questions or concerns.


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