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Have a criminal record? Looking for jobs might get a little easier.

This year, 700,000 people will leave prison and attempt to re-enter their communities, but for many this is not an easy task. Finding work is difficult for most people these days. With stigmas concerning criminal records, it can feel impossible to get a job after serving a jail sentence, but that is about to change.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new guidelines that clarify employers' obligation when looking at potential employees with criminal records. Now, applicants have an opportunity to explain their actions, the punishment and how they have changed.

Under the revision, employers need to consider more than just the fact that an applicant has a criminal record. The employer must look at the severity of the offense, how long ago it occurred and whether it would have any effect on the position.

People with criminal records are disproportionately from minority and economically distressed communities. By automatically rejecting job applicants who have criminal records, the guidelines remind us that employers are engaging in a form of previously-permissible racial discrimination.

To address the disproportionate impact, the new guidelines also suggest methods of revising HR policies that will encourage potential employers to make informed decisions about a person's criminal background. In the past, many employers rejected prospective employees based on unsubstantiated beliefs about recidivism. Now if a prospective employee committed a crime that is not related to the applied-for position and the crime occurred long ago, it may not be enough to automatically reject the applicant.

Helping people get jobs and return to their communities is a critical step in reducing the amount of recidivism and helping people move on with their lives. Hopefully, with the new guidance from the EEOC, people with a criminal past will find it easier to return to their communities after a jail sentence.

Source: The Crime Report, 'A Step Forward' for Jobseeksers with Criminal Records, by Glenn E. Martin, May 8, 2012

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