Getting Hired with a Felony Conviction

Hiring Gap

The state of Oregon recognizes that a criminal conviction can create serious obstacles to rebuilding your life. One of the most significant is the difficulty in securing employment–especially good-paying employment–after a felony conviction. That’s why Oregon has a “ban the box” law prohibiting most employers from asking about criminal convictions on a job application or at any point before the interview stage. In some cities, the restrictions are even stricter.

The law is a step in the right direction. But, for most people with criminal convictions, it doesn’t solve the whole problem. For example: 

  • Some convictions disqualify a person from holding certain types of positions, or from receiving certain licenses in Oregon
  • At or after the first interview, most Oregon employers are free to ask about criminal convictions

Here’s what you need to know about Oregon criminal convictions and employment. 

Barriers to Employment with a Criminal Record

Disqualification from Licensing or Employment in Oregon

Though Oregon law provides some protections for people with criminal convictions who are seeking employment, state law also creates barriers for some. For example, criminal convictions must be disclosed in many types of licensing applications. But, both the process and the impact of a criminal conviction vary depending on the type of license you’re pursuing. 

For instance, there is a long list of criminal convictions that will disqualify a person from obtaining a teaching license, or other school-related license, in Oregon. The list includes many crimes of violence, sex crimes, and drug crimes. Failure to disclose a conviction is also grounds for denial.

On the other hand, an applicant for an Oregon nursing license must also disclose any criminal convictions. But, there is no specific list of disqualifying offenses, and each application will be evaluated individually. Factors such as the nature of the offense, how much time has passed, and other elements of the application will determine whether or not the license may be issued. 

Some other professions in which licensing may be impacted by a criminal conviction include: 

If you are a licensed professional or plan to pursue licensing and you are facing criminal charges, it is important to ask your criminal defense attorney how a conviction might impact your licensing before you make any decisions about how to move forward with your criminal case. If you already have a conviction on your record, you may still have options. 

For most people, clearing a criminal record through expungement is the best option. Not every conviction qualifies for expungement. But, a 2022 change in Oregon expungement law increased access to expungement. The new statute reduced the waiting period for many expungements, and expanded the types of conviction that are eligible for expungement.

If you’ve been convicted of a crime in Oregon and it’s getting in the way of your career path or your ability to provide for yourself and your family, now is the time to learn more about your rights under the new law. Talk to an experienced Oregon expungement attorney about how you may be able to clear your record and your path to better job opportunities.

A Criminal Conviction Can Affect Eligibility for Unlicensed Jobs, Too

In Oregon, a criminal conviction–or a certain type of criminal conviction–can disqualify a person from certain types of work, even when no license is required.

For example, Oregon law requires anyone who is going to work in–or even volunteer in–a facility licensed by Senior and Disabled Services to undergo a criminal background check. This requirement extends to some other long-term care facilities. 

A criminal conviction isn’t necessarily disqualifying. But, a potentially disqualifying conviction will trigger a review process in which the applicant is asked to submit mitigating information. Then, an authorized representative conducts an evaluation to determine fitness.

The applicant can be hired only if the evaluator determines that “the subject individual’s history does not indicate a likelihood of behavior that could endanger the welfare of persons receiving care.” Of course it’s safer for a facility to err on the side of caution if there are red flags. 

Can You Work for the State of Oregon with a Felony? 

The answer to this question, like many of the other questions regarding employment after a criminal conviction, is “maybe.” Certain agencies have specific restrictions. For example, if you want to be an Oregon state trooper, any felony conviction is an automatic disqualifier. So is a misdemeanor conviction within the past five years, or an older misdemeanor conviction for certain types of crimes. 

Not every department or agency will be as strict as law enforcement. But, criminal background checks are common for governmental roles. For instance, the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) requires a criminal background check (and often an abuse history check) for any employee, contractor, or volunteer.

If the applicant has a criminal conviction, the department uses a balancing test to determine fitness for employment. If DHS determines the applicant is unfit for employment, or imposes restrictions on employment, that isn’t necessarily the end of the road. The applicant may request a hearing. 

In other sectors, the standards and procedures may differ from either of the examples above.


Job Interview

Do Felons Get Paid Less? 

Data gathered across the past several years shows a definite disconnect between the earnings of those with criminal histories and their peers with no criminal record. For example: 

  • In 2018, the Brookings Institution and the Federal Reserve Board found that in the first full calendar year after being released from incarceration, half of ex-cons earn less than $10,090. Just 20% earned more than $15,000.
  • A survey of multiple studies conducted by the Center for Economic Policy found that a history of incarceration reduced the average number of weeks worked in a calendar year by nearly 10%, with an even greater impact among minority workers. 
  • In one survey of employers, just 40% said they would definitely or probably hire someone with a criminal conviction–compared with 80-90% saying they would definitely or probably hire someone with little experience, lengthy unemployment, who was previously dependent on public benefits, and other factors that might negatively impact the employer’s perception of an applicant.
  • A new study released in February revealed that men with a criminal record are more likely to have worked part-time jobs after the age of 30 than their peers who have no criminal convictions. 
  • The same study found that men with a criminal history who are employed have lower average pay and lower median pay than their peers without criminal records. 

Of course, there are other variables that may impact pay rates of those with criminal records. For example, someone who has been incarcerated for an extended period won’t have recent work experience. Still, there is no question that eliminating the obstacle created by a criminal conviction can increase access to employment and improve the type of employment available.

The Bottom Line On Getting Hired with a Criminal Conviction

As you can see, the obstacles a criminal conviction creates can be complicated. A criminal conviction may be a complete bar to certain types of employment, or may trigger further analysis to determine whether the applicant is fit for certain types of employment. The weight that conviction carries may depend on the nature of the charge, how old the conviction is, and other factors. An applicant found to be unfit may or may not be able to appeal that decision. And those are just the statutory and regulatory hurdles. 

Even if there is no legal barrier or official policy relating to a particular field or a particular type of conviction, most Oregon employers are free to consider any criminal history as one variable when choosing which candidate to hire. That means a job applicant with a felony conviction–or, in some cases, even a misdemeanor conviction–is often at a disadvantage. And, landing the job is just one consideration. Employees with criminal convictions may be paid less and face other disadvantages in the workplace.

When it’s an option, the best solution for most people seeking to work in Oregon is to get criminal convictions expunged. In most situations, an expunged conviction need not be disclosed, meaning that there’s no automatic disqualification, no scrutiny to determine whether there are sufficient mitigating factors to find the applicant fit, and no need to work through a formal process in hopes of overcoming a negative determination. 

The best source of information about whether you may be eligible for expungement and how to proceed with clearing your record is an attorney experienced with expungement and other restoration of rights proceedings.