Can an Employer Fire You Because of a Felony?

Felony convictions could get you fired -- but this isn't always the case.
i Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

If you've ever been convicted of a felony, your past could come back to haunt you and jeopardize your job. The laws that protect ex-offenders from workplace discrimination are often blurry, and in most cases, employers are within their rights if they choose to terminate employees because of felony convictions. Being honest with your boss could prevent your run-ins with the law from costing you your career.

The Law

    Employers are allowed to set standards for employee conduct, and they can require that workers keep a clean criminal record upon hire. As an employee, disclosure laws vary by state and the industry you work in. You aren't typically required to report arrests unless they lead to convictions, but there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you work in education or law enforcement, you must report an arrest, and the court will notify your employer if you don't. Felony convictions that have been expunged from your record don't have to be disclosed to your boss.

Prior Convictions

    It's recommended that you notify your employer of any prior felonies as soon as possible -- ideally during the hiring process. If you choose to hide your criminal past to land the job, there's a chance your employer could find out and terminate you for your dishonesty. Always be honest and disclose information about your criminal history when looking for jobs, particularly if you are asked about it on your job application. In the event you've already been hired and you're worried that your boss will find out, approach her and let her know privately. While it could put your job on the line, it is better to let her know yourself than for her to find out through a third party.

Recent Convictions

    If you're convicted of a felony while employed, chances are you'll have no choice but to tell your boss. After all, how will you explain your need to take time off for court hearings and to serve your sentence if you're given jail time? Tell your boss about pending charges as soon as possible before they lead to convictions. She might choose to wait and see what happens. The charges could be dropped, or you could be acquitted. However, in states with at-will employment, she could legally fire you at any time for any reason, including pending charges and convicted felonies.

Tips and Considerations

    When talking to your boss, try to put a positive spin on the situation. For prior convictions, take responsibility for your actions and discuss what you learned from the experience to help show that you're accountable and motivated. For pending charges or recent convictions, explain your innocence or guilt and establish that your behavior outside of work will not affect your performance on the job.

the nest