Employers say felonies, usually not misdemeanors, will prevent getting jobs

Some employers focused on felonies. Others, such as the Army, said every misdemeanor counts.

by Elizabeth Cook

Flashing lights illuminate the side of the house, police file out of their cars and some students are given minor consumption citations. It’s a common weekend scene in Dinkytown that some might think can hurt their chances of employment.

First-year student Melissa Ritter discovered an option to clear her record when she was ticketed with minor consumption in the third week of September. Along with the citation was information about the restorative justice program, a chance to erase the incident from her record.

Having a criminal record could affect future employment, depending on the severity of the crime. But most employers interviewed said they aren’t as concerned about misdemeanor crimes as they are about felonies.

Nonetheless, Ritter decided to go through the restorative justice program in November to erase the charge from her record and to save money by not paying the fine. Instead, she did eight hours of community service.

This way future employers will see an unblemished record.

Daniel Haas, the assistant manager of Noodles and Company, said the company does background checks ‘ on which a misdemeanor would show up ‘ on all employees for safety purposes.

Haas said during the checks they look for more serious offenses, like theft or any type of behavioral issues. But if someone has many misdemeanors, it could affect their hiring.

In some jobs, every misdemeanor counts. The Army does an extensive background check, said Capt. Valent Bernat III. If anything comes up, it must be cleared through a waiver.

Every offense ‘ even juvenile ones ‘ show up, Bernat said. If it’s something like minor consumption, the waiver can be issued in the recruiting office through an interview, Bernat said.

But if it’s something like theft, the waiver process is more extensive and not automatic.

Eighty-five percent of Army jobs require security clearance; if a person has a felony conviction, they will not get cleared, Bernat said. But they could still find other employment with the Army.

Besides waivers for military jobs and the restorative justice program for livability crimes, there are other ways to get a conviction erased, said University Student Legal Service Director Mark Karon.

One way is through expungement, Karon said, which seals the record through a court order.

This is easier to do when it’s a lesser offense, but in some cases it can be done in more serious offenses, like assault, Karon said.

Certain employers won’t hire a person if he or she has been convicted of certain offenses, he said.

For example, drug charges would impact a job in nursing or the medical field and theft, swindle or fraud would affect the law field.

Dishonesty crimes also can affect banking jobs, said Richele Messick, a Wells Fargo representative.

Any type of criminal record dealing with dishonesty crimes, such as theft, would prohibit someone from a job with the company, Messick said.

It doesn’t matter how valuable the item was, or how much money was taken; if someone has a theft conviction, they can’t get a job with Wells Fargo, Messick said.

Certain theft convictions can be expunged, and while students might think a drug conviction could haunt them for life, there are ways around that, too.

Judge Gary Larson, the presiding judge of the 4th Judicial District Drug Court, said having a felony, such as certain drug convictions, on a record is a “huge negative” that impacts employment, housing and student loans.

Through the drug court there are two record-clearing programs available involving drug treatment and a probationary period ‘ a diversion program and Minnesota Statute 152.18.

These are both for lower level drug offenses. Through these programs a person can go through treatments and drug tests, and in about a year, the conviction is cleared from their record, Larson said. The only difference is that to qualify under statute 152.18, the person must plead guilty, while the diversion program requires no plea.

Each year nearly 2,000 new cases arrive here, the largest drug court in the nation, Larson said.

While some employers have hard and fast rules detailing which crimes are acceptable, the University is less explicit when it comes to its hiring procedures and what affects employment.

Lori Ann Vicich, director of strategic communications at the University, said each person is dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

During the hiring process, the hirer picks which categories will be included in the background check, depending on the job.

These could include academics, sex offender registration or criminal felony and misdemeanor convictions.

Some students said they believe background checks can be bypassed by knowing the right people.

English and women’s studies senior Alison Fox said having a criminal record won’t necessarily disqualify someone, but it also won’t help.

Giving the example of the child of a chief executive, she said, “I think it’s all a matter of other qualifications,” she said. “It’s all about who you know.”