You may have to disclose criminal convictions to an employer in Colorado. Starting in August, 2019, the law on this topic is changing drastically. Colorado passed a “ban-the-box” law that forbids employers from asking about prior convictions. However, the law only applies to job applications, not subsequent interviews. It also has numerous other exceptions.
As a result, you may not benefit from this new law. You may still have to disclose a prior criminal conviction. This can leave you struggling to find a job after being convicted for a crime.
Disclosing criminal convictions under Colorado's new “ban-the-box” laws
In an attempt to help ex-convicts return to the workforce, Colorado passed 2 bills.1 These bills banned employers from asking candidates about prior criminal convictions on the job application. They also restricted when people had to disclose criminal convictions that had been expunged.
The governor signed the bills into law on May 28, 2019.2
The first bill became CRS 8-2-130. It is also referred to as the Colorado Chance to Compete Act. CRS 8-2-130 forbids employers from asking about your criminal history on a job application. It also forbids employers from requiring you to disclose your criminal history at the application stage.
CRS 8-2-130 does not prevent employers from conducting a background check, though.
It went into effect on September 1, 2019, for employers with more than 10 employees. It is set to go into effect for all employers on September 1, 2021.
The second bill became CRS 24-72-702. It protects people from being required to disclose information about a criminal conviction that has been expunged or sealed. It went into effect on August 2, 2019.
Exceptions to CRS 8-2-130: When you have to disclose prior criminal convictions
While CRS 8-2-130 forbids employers from asking about your criminal background, it has numerous exceptions. If one of these exceptions applies, you may still have to disclose a prior criminal conviction.
The exceptions are:
- A law prohibits people with certain criminal offenses from working in the role,
- The job is designed to encourage the employment of people with a criminal background or
- A law requires a criminal background check for the particular position being filled.3
This means you can be required to disclose a criminal conviction based on the position. For example, employers filling the following jobs can require you to disclose a past offense on the job application:
- Airline pilot,
- Police officer, or
You may still have to disclose a conviction after the application
CRS 8-2-130 only applies to a job application. Job applications are only the first step in the job seeking process. A potential employer can require you to disclose a criminal conviction at any other stage. CRS 8-2-130 does not protect you, once you have progressed past the application stage. You may have to disclose a prior criminal conviction, if asked.
Local ordinances can provide further protection
Colorado's ban the box laws did not prohibit local law from providing more protections for job hunters. Cities can pass laws that protect you from having to disclose prior convictions in more situations.
Collateral consequences of a criminal conviction: Finding a job
The problems that these laws try to fix are serious. People who have been convicted for a crime often struggle to find a job. Potential employers tend to prefer candidates who have clean criminal histories. When competition for a position is fierce, applicants with criminal backgrounds rarely get hired.
These problems often continue until the prior conviction is sealed or expunged. It can make it very difficult for people to earn an income. This often pushes people back into crime. This often leads to another arrest and conviction, creating a vicious and unfair cycle.
How employers learn of prior convictions: Admission and background checks
Employers tend to discover a job applicant's prior conviction in 2 ways:
- Getting a job applicant to admit to a prior conviction, or
- Conducting a criminal background check on job candidates.
Employers usually get candidates to admit to a prior criminal conviction on the job application. The application usually includes a box that asks whether the applicant has ever been convicted. Some applications only ask about felony convictions. Others ask about criminal charges or even arrests.
If you admit to the blemish on your criminal history, you check the box. This often dooms your chance of getting the job.
If you lie on the application and do not check the box, you could get fired. This usually happens as soon as your employer finds out about your criminal conviction.
Employers also use criminal background checks to find prior convictions. These usually happen late in the hiring process. You could have had multiple interviews before your potential employer runs a background check.
Colorado's new ban the box law expressly allows employers to conduct these background checks. In these cases, you do not have to disclose a prior criminal conviction. An interested employer can still find out. They just have to run a background check. They do not have to rely on your admission. This is why some critics think that Colorado's new laws do not go far enough.
Casey Leins, “Colorado Gov. Polis Signs ‘Ban the Box' Legislation,” U.S. News (May 29, 2019).
C.R.S. § 8-2-130(4).