Excerpted from a USA Today Column by Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

Question: I was convicted of a felony nine years ago related to something I did when drunk. Since then, I have gone to treatment, been sober, and straightened my life out. I was contacted by a recruiter this week and now have an interview with an excellent prospective employer. I know that if asked, I must disclose. However, should I declare this to the recruiter or anyone at the company before they ask?

Answer: You raise a valid concern about being asked to disclose the conviction to the recruiter or the prospective employer and whether you should inform the employer prior to them asking. I want to share information on what stage of the hiring process an employer can inquire about your criminal history. A prospective employer should not typically ask you about your criminal record unless it pertains to your job and after rendering a conditional offer. For instance, asking about your DUI would be appropriate if you applied to be a driver.

While there is no federal prohibition for an employer to ask applicants about criminal history, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides general guidance recommending employers not to inquire about convictions on job applications. If an employer does ask, it should be job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Additionally, several state laws and local ordinances limit the use of arrest and conviction records by prospective employers. Commonly referred to as ban-the-box laws, these restrictions prohibit the employer from asking an applicant any questions about criminal records on the employment application or early in the screening process.

Though you might not be required to disclose it, you may want to volunteer the conviction during the initial interview. Being forthright and honest about what occurred and how you responded to it can be viewed by an employer as honorable and candid. Consequently, this may impact favorably on how the employer perceives you. If the prospective employer were to find out about the conviction via a background check, they would only see the conviction, not the human story behind it.

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