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Should You Tell a Potential Employer You're an Ex-Felon?

By John Adams

I'm a prisoner at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington, as well as a student at the Walla Walla Community College currently working for my AAAS degrees in Business Management and Bookkeeping. All the business courses I've taken are designed to teach you how to find a job in the business world; however, for an ex-convict there is much more to gaining employment and keeping your job than is taught from a textbook.

The reality of the situation is that you will be an ex-convict. That label will never leave you. Potential employers may not want to hire you because of that label. You may already realize this. When you are released and it comes time to get a job you are going to have to ask yourself: Should I tell a potential employer that I'm an ex-felon? Since the law pretty much controls our (prisoner's) lives, let's see what the law has to say about ex-offenders employment rights.

RCW 49.60.010 provides that practices of discrimination based on race, creed, color, national origin, sex, marital status, age or handicap are a matter of state concern. The statute recognizes that discrimination threatens not only the rights and proper privileges of all persons, but menaces the institutions and foundation of a free democratic state.

RCW 49.60.120(3) authorizes the Human Rights Commission to "adopt, promulgate, amend, and rescind suitable rules and regulations" to prevent discrimination in the work place on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, marital status, age or sensory, mental or physical handicap.

The Human Rights Commission promulgated WAC 162.16.060 declaring that an employment practice which automatically excludes a person with a prior criminal conviction has the potential for discrimination. Paragraph (3) of the regulation states in part: To the extent that an employment practice automatically excludes persons with convictions, it has the potential for discrimination because of race and ethnic origin. See: Carter v. Gallagher , 452 F.2d 315 (8th Cir. 1971). This is because minority groups in our society have experienced unequal law enforcement. On the other hand, an employer should have the right to exclude persons who have been convicted of certain kinds of offenses from consideration for certain kinds of jobs, at least if the conviction is relatively recent and the exclusion is done on a carefully considered basis.

As commendable as the Human Rights Commission is for taking steps to help ex-offenders secure employment and successfully reintegrate back into society, unfortunetly, the Washington courts don't agree that ex-felons are a protected class of person under the discrimination laws. In Gugin v. Sinco, Inc., 68 Wn.App. 826 (1993), the court found that the "Human Rights Commission created a new protected class of personsconvicted criminalsand their actions exceeded the legislative grant of authority for state agencies to enact their own regulations." WAC 162.16.060 was held invalid.

You can see that, as an ex-felon, you don't have the same employment rights as a citizen who has never been convicted of a felony. Despite this fact, you shouldn't leave prison thinking you're socially and economically disadvantaged. You don't need to advertise that you are an ex-felon, but there is a time and a place to be honest about your incarceration and a potential employer is that time and place.

You may be thinking "if they know about me, they will reject me." Some employers may, others will not. Don't just tell the potential employer that you were in prison; also tell them what you did while you were incarcerated. "I worked for X amount of time. I learned a vocational skill. I got a vocational or educational degree in X." Chances are the employer may think that you wouldn't be trying to get a job in the first place if you intended to continue to break the law.

If you haven't done anything productive during your incarceration to help you successfully reintegrate back into society, most likely you don't want to get a job anyway and will be one of those statistics of recidivism.

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