Dava Rogers applied at all kinds of jobs for a year, from fast-food restaurants to cleaners, with no success, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. On every application, once she checked “yes” to having a criminal record, that was usually the end of it, said Rogers, 42, who had served six months in jail for embezzlement. It’s a Catch-22 that many ex-convicts face as they try to find jobs. Some businesses use background checks to verify previous employment or screen employees who have access to sensitive company information. Starting this month, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest corporate employer, is requiring criminal background checks for all new employees. If more companies follow suit, it could become more difficult for ex-convicts to get the entry-level, minimum-wage jobs they often rely on to get back into the legal working world.
Donna Cavitte of the Missouri Human Rights Commission said the number of complaints to her office about background checks is growing. “When an employer finds out information like that and refuses to hire (you) or terminates you, it could contribute to someone going back to a life of crime and drugs,” Cavitte said. “It’s perfectly legal as long as employers apply it consistently and not just for certain groups.” A danger comes from interpreting too much from checks that show arrest records. Jerry Hunter, a St. Louis labor attorney, suggests that companies should not ask applicants about arrests because they don’t indicate convictions.