Formerly Incarcerated Indviduals
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Know Your Rights

New York State Human Rights Law prohibits unlawful discrimination in employment, licensing, housing, credit, public accommodations and private educational institutions because of race, national origin, sex, disability, creed, sexual orientation or age, among other bases. As explained below, the New York State Division of Human Rights enforces this law. Complaints may be also brought in state court.

In addition, the Human Rights Law provides protection from unlawful discrimination for people who have had arrests resolved in their favor, or who have sealed records or youthful offender adjudications. In conjunction with the New York State Correction Law, people with prior criminal convictions are also protected from unlawful discrimination by the Human Rights Law. These provisions of the Human Rights Law cover a number of areas, including employment and licensing. The requirements of the Human Rights Law vary depending on an individual’s circumstances, and are explained separately below.

Finding a Job

Employment is one of the primary goals for all individuals with criminal records. Time and again, research shows that being employed is essential to maintaining a successful life without reoffending.

Get help with getting organized before you are released right through tips to help you succeed once you find a job.

Arrest Records

If you have an arrest that was resolved in your favor, a youthful offender adjudication or a sealed record, you cannot be asked about or discriminated against on those grounds in connection with employment, licensing, credit or insurance.

The Human Rights Law offers broad protection by stating that it is unlawful to “make any inquiry about, whether in any form of application or otherwise, or to act adversely to any individual” with respect to the categories stated above. See New York State Human Rights Law §296.16

Individuals are not protected if an arrest is still pending.

The protections described above do not apply to governmental agencies involved in licensing of guns, firearms or other deadly weapons, or in the employment of police officers and peace officers, or where otherwise permitted by statute.

Prior Conviction Records

You must disclose any prior convictions, which are not sealed, to your employer or potential employer if you are asked to do so. This also applies to applications for licenses.

While employers and licensing agencies are permitted to inquire about convictions for criminal offenses, they may not deny employment unless there is a direct relationship between the conviction and the employment or license sought, or unless granting the employment or issuing the license would involve an unreasonable risk to property or the safety and welfare of others. See New York State Human Rights Law §296.15 and Article 23-A of the New York State Correction Law. In reaching this determination, the employer or licensing agency must consider all of the following factors:

  • New York’s public policy to encourage the employment and licensure of those with previous criminal convictions;
  • The specific duties and responsibilities necessarily related to the license or employment sought;
  • The bearing, if any, the criminal offense will have on the ability to perform the job duties;
  • The time elapsed since the occurrence of the criminal offense;
  • The age of the person at the time of the offense;
  • The seriousness of the offense;
  • Any information produced about the person’s rehabilitation and good conduct; and
  • The legitimate interest of the public agency or private employer in protecting property and the safety and welfare of others.

Record of Arrest and Prosecution (RAP) Sheet

A Record of Arrest and Prosecution, also known as a RAP sheet, is a record of all arrests and convictions that an individual has received. Once a person is arrested and fingerprinted, he or she has a RAP sheet regardless of the outcome. In New York State, the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) keeps these records. They provide these records in response to both criminal and non-criminal inquiries.

RAP sheets are primarily used by criminal justice and law enforcement agencies. Certain employers, including but not limited to childcare agencies, hospitals, museums and public employers (fire, police department etc.), have access to RAP sheets.

How To Read A RAP Sheet

Understanding a RAP sheet and ensuring its accuracy is important. A DCJS RAP sheet can have both civil and criminal information on it. Learn how to read a RAP sheet. To obtain a copy of your RAP sheet, visit the DCJS web site.

Sealing and Correcting Criminal Records

Criminal records can be sealed under a number of very specific circumstances, including youthful offender adjudications or reduction of a charge from a misdemeanor or felony to a violation or infraction.

Individuals with criminal records have the right to challenge the completeness and accuracy of that record.

The DCJS Record Review program can address issues of sealing and correcting records. Information on the program can be found on the DCJS web site.

Re-Entry Toolkit

This toolkit contains practical worksheet sand examples to prepare you for employment.

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    Re-Entry Toolkit: Resume Fact Sheet

    If you don’t currently have a resume, you can use this fact sheet to record all of the locations, dates and other information related to your past jobs to help you create a resume and prepare to fill out job applications. Use as many copies of the fact sheet as you need to record all of your work history.

     

    Download

File a Complaint

If you believe you have been unlawfully discriminated against because of (a) an arrest record resolved in your favor, (b) a youthful offender adjudication, (c) a sealed record, or (d) a criminal conviction record, you may file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights. A complaint must be filed with the Division of Human Rights within one year of the alleged unlawful act.

The Division will investigate your complaint and determine whether there is probable cause to believe that unlawful discrimination has occurred. Where probable cause is found, the complaint will be forwarded to an administrative law judge to conduct a public hearing. Upon completion of the hearing, the administrative law judge will make a recommendation to the Commissioner of Human Rights. The Commissioner will issue a Final Order in the matter and, if discrimination is found, may order appropriate damages and other relief.

The Division can only accept complaints of conviction record discrimination against private employers. Those claiming discrimination by public employers or licensing agencies must bring an action directly in state court.

For more information or to make an appointment, contact the regional office nearest you or visit the Division of Human Rights website, www.dhr.ny.gov. Complaint forms are available on the website. Please provide the following information, if available:

  • Names, titles, addresses, and phone numbers of all persons you allege have discriminated against you.
  • Photocopies of any documentation that supports your allegations.
  • The names and addresses of any witnesses to the alleged act(s) of discrimination.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: You applied for a job and the application asks if you have ever been convicted of a criminal offense. You do not feel comfortable disclosing your felony convictions. Do you have to answer honestly?

A: Yes. You have to answer honestly and completely. Should the employer determine then or later that you made a misrepresentation on your application, the employer may refuse to hire you or terminate your employment.

Q: You were arrested for a criminal offense but the charges were dismissed. Can the employer ask you about this arrest?

A: No. It would be an unlawful discriminatory practice to ask about this arrest because it was resolved in your favor (except in the circumstances relating to law enforcement discussed above).

Q: You are 40 years old and apply for a job as a cable installer, which requires unsupervised entry into customers’ homes. You disclose your recent conviction for burglary, and have no employment history since the conviction. You do not get the job and the employer tells you that the reason is your conviction record. Is this lawful?

A: If the employer properly weighed all the factors set out in the Correction Law and in good faith concluded that there was a direct relationship between your conviction and your fitness to perform the job duties which posed an unreasonable risk to the property or welfare of others, the decision would likely be in accordance with the law.

Q: You are 27 years old and apply for a position as a warehouse worker, a job you have held with another company for 6 years without incident. You were convicted of burglary eight years ago, when you were 19. The application asks for your criminal conviction history and states that no one with a felony conviction within the past ten years will be considered. Is this lawful?

A: No. An employer may not refuse to consider persons with prior conviction records and must consider all applications. To the extent that an applicant has a criminal conviction, employers are required to weigh the factors set out in the Correction Law on a case by case basis. If these factors were properly weighed in good faith, an employer would probably conclude that in this case, there was not a direct relationship between the job duties and the offense, and therefore, employment would not impose an unreasonable risk to property or to the welfare or safety of others.

Q: You apply for a position and disclose on the application that you have a prior conviction. You do not get the job, but you are not sure if it was because of your conviction record. Are you entitled by law to know why you were denied the job?

A: Yes. Correction Law §754 states that any person with a conviction record who is denied employment or a license is entitled to “a written statement setting forth the reasons for such denial.” You should make your request in writing, and the employer or licensing agency should provide it within 30 days of your request.