Being accused or convicted of domestic violence can have serious consequences, not only on your personal life but also your professional life. A domestic violence conviction can make it difficult to find and secure a job for anyone looking for employment in California. Even if you’re sentenced to probation in lieu of jail time, not only will employers often not hire someone with a criminal history, but in some cases, an employer has the right to fire you over a domestic violence conviction, especially if it reflects on the nature of the type of job you hold.
The good news is that being accused of domestic violence does not automatically make you unemployable. You have some rights and options, although you may have to jump through a few more hoops to become gainfully employed. Let’s take a closer look at how domestic violence can impact your job prospects in California and what you can do about it.
An Overview of How Domestic Violence Impacts Employment
We’ll talk more specifics about California’s labor laws shortly, but let’s start with the 10,000-foot view. First, the bad news: a domestic violence conviction can have a long-term impact on your life and career prospects. Specifically:
- Prospective employers can run a background check on you and in some instances may disqualify you from employment for a conviction based on their hiring policies.
- Your current employer can potentially terminate your employment over a conviction if it violates their policies.
- You can’t be denied employment over an arrest that doesn’t result in a conviction, and you can’t be fired just for being arrested or charged with a crime. However, a current employer can investigate the circumstances behind your arrest and identify other reasons to fire you (for example, failing to show up for work due to being in jail).
- A domestic violence arrest or conviction could negatively impact your licensure if you hold a professional license.
California Laws Regarding Employers, Arrests, and Criminal Convictions
Now for the good news: California law does place some limits on employers when dealing with arrests and convictions of their current and prospective employees. This makes it more difficult for them to fire you or to deny you employment randomly or arbitrarily over an allegation or conviction of domestic violence or some other crime. (They may still find ways to do so, but they must be clear in their reasons.) Here’s what you need to know:
Employers in California must follow certain rules when conducting background checks and asking questions about arrests or convictions on job applications. Specifically:
- They may not ask you about any arrest that didn’t result in a conviction. (Labor Code 432.7)
- They may also not ask you about any diversionary programs you participated in to have charges dismissed–or any crime that has been expunged or its records sealed.
- Employers of companies with more than five employees cannot ask you about any prior convictions until after making a conditional offer of employment, according to California’s Fair Chance Act (aka, the “ban-the-box” law, AB 1008).
- Employers cannot ask about any arrests or convictions over seven years old.
Once you’ve been given a conditional offer of employment, employers may ask about any convictions, or they may run a criminal background check. However, they cannot deny you employment simply because you have a criminal record. They must first evaluate the conviction in relation to the position you are applying for, and if they deny you employment, they must show why it is relevant to whether or not you would be suitable for the job.
Where your domestic violence charges might have a more immediate impact is with your current job if you’re currently employed. California is an “at-will” state, meaning employers and employees can generally terminate employment anytime for any reason. That said, the law still offers you some protection against arbitrary firing over criminal charges. Here is a quick overview of how employers can respond.
If you’ve been arrested and/or charged with a crime:
Employers are NOT allowed to fire you simply based on an arrest or pending charges. (This falls in step with the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”) However, your employer does have the right to investigate the nature of your alleged conduct in the context of your job duties and decide whether you pose a risk. For example, being accused of domestic violence weighs more heavily if you work with children than if you work alone in a cubicle. They can also evaluate how much work you’re likely to miss as a result of going to trial, as well as whether they could face any liability by allowing you to return to work.
The employer can only fire you if there is a legitimate reason to do so other than the arrest itself. However, they can also place you on leave or suspension until a verdict is reached, possibly reinstating you if there is no conviction.
If your domestic violence crime ends in a conviction:
Employers may be able to use a conviction as grounds for termination depending on the nature of the crime and its relation to your job duties. If they can show that your performance is compromised due to your criminal record or that you pose a potential threat, they could legally terminate you. Furthermore, if you are convicted of a felony offense, you may be legally disqualified to work in some places (for example, in a school).
What to Do if Domestic Violence Charges Threaten Your Job Prospects
You can’t always control whether someone will accuse you of domestic violence, but if it happens, there are some steps you can take to protect your current or future employment interests. Some tips that can help:
- Know your rights under the law. We’ve shared some of those rights above, but this is just a quick overview. If you have concerns about whether a current or prospective employer complies with the laws regarding a domestic violence case, consult an attorney.
- Comply with all rehabilitation suggestions or requirements. Even if you’re not mandated to go to anger management class or therapy, it may be a good idea, especially if your charges result in a conviction. Employers are often willing to overlook domestic violence allegations if they see you taking active steps to rehabilitate.
- Seek expungement where applicable. Many minor domestic violence offenses may be eligible for expungement or record-sealing after the appropriate time has passed, or after you complete a diversionary program. Current or former employers cannot ask you about expunged records, nor can they penalize you for them–and if your charges are expunged or sealed, you’re legally allowed to say you’ve never been arrested or convicted.
Ultimately, your best move when domestic violence charges threaten your employment is to fight them with the help of an experienced Los Angeles domestic violence defense attorney–someone who works to get you acquitted, get the charges dismissed, or seek other remedies to minimize the damage to your life. Call our offices to schedule a consultation.