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Equal Rights Division Newsletter - August 2, 2021

Employment after conviction - what you need to know.

Too often, job seekers find their past criminal convictions are a barrier to finding employment. Wisconsin law prohibits employers from discriminating against otherwise qualified applicants based on their conviction records. But there are some exceptions that may come into play.

Am I required to disclose my conviction record when applying for a job?

An employer is permitted to ask you if you have a conviction record at any time. If you refuse to disclose a conviction record or give false or inaccurate information about it an employer can refuse to hire you based on your non-disclosure or false information. Similarly, employers may have policies in place requiring employees to notify a supervisor or HR if they are arrested or convicted while employed. Failure to follow such a notification requirement may also be a lawful basis for termination of employment. For these reasons, it is almost always best to be upfront and truthful about your involvement with the justice system.

Employment after conviction

The "substantially related" exception

Employers may lawfully refuse to hire or take other action against an applicant or employee when their conviction is "substantially related" to the job in question. "Substantially related" means that the circumstances or nature of the crime are similar enough to the roles and responsibilities of the job that the job offers a significant opportunity to reoffend. For example, an employer might deny someone with a DUI conviction a job as a delivery driver, arguing that a DUI is substantially related to the role and responsibilities of driving a vehicle. However, it would be harder to argue that a DUI conviction would be substantially related to a job as a cook or another job that does not involve driving. The "substantially related" exception is determined on a case-by-case basis - based on the circumstances of the conviction and the job in question. Job seekers with a conviction should be prepared to explain to a hiring manager why the circumstances of their particular conviction are not related to the particular job to which they are applying. But job seekers who are denied employment or believe they have otherwise been discriminated against when there is not a substantial relationship between their conviction and the job in question should reach out to the Equal Rights Division for assistance.

Know Your Rights

You have the right to file a complaint with the Equal Rights Division if an employer does not hire you because they believe that your conviction record substantially relates to the position you've applied for and you disagree.

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