2018-08-15 / Features

Post-Conviction Employment Rights Explained At Boro Prez Forum

By Thomas Cogan
All last week, Borough President Melinda Katz’s office held a series of forums called Closing Cases, Opening Doors.  The series was an alert to men and women who in the past were convicted of certain misdemeanors or even felonies. It says that now, if at least 10 years have gone by since their sentences were completed they could be eligible to have records of these old, non-violent offenses sealed, which would prevent prospective employers from examining them. 

In meetings held Monday through Friday, from Long Island City to Far Rockaway, attendees were able to hear attorneys from the Legal Aid Society explain this new policy and urge them to take advantage of it, then confer closely with them afterward about their cases.

Borough President Katz gave a brief introduction to each meeting before turning matters over to the lawyers.  On Wednesday evening at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, the Legal Aid representatives were Emma Goodman, legal counsel of the society’s special litigation unit, and Melissa Ader, a staff attorney, civil practice, in its employment law unit.  In her introduction, B.P. Katz said that the state law easing the problem of past convictions had been passed in 2017 but since then only a few more than 600 persons have taken advantage of it.  The law specifies that in addition to having his or her records sealed, an ex-offender is provided with a Certificate of Relief or Certificate of Good Conduct, signifying recovered respectability and freedom from the burden of an old record that should now be considered a nonentity. 

Being invited to a job interview could mean being asked about past misconduct from either a human resources department or a potential employer.  If the record of it has been sealed and no others are outstanding, the applicant can declare there are no convictions.  If the employer hires the applicant and then asks about and finds impending arrests or convictions still on record, that could mean withdrawal of the hiring.  But if the employer somehow discovers the applicant’s sealed conviction it would seem that a consequent withdrawal of the job offer would be prohibited, since the employer shouldn’t have seen it.  However, Ader said, the laws are not clear, though she believes the New York state legislature and the city council should amend their human rights laws ”to explicitly prohibit employers from rejecting job applicants who say they have no criminal record, when all of their convictions have been sealed.”

It seems a combination of not being aware of the new law’s existence or not believing it could be of help has thus far retarded its progress.  Goodman said there is a crying need for qualified lawyers to publicize the law.  She also said she believes the law is not strong enough, but should be exploited as far as possible while its advocates try to make it stronger.  Expunging records entirely, as some other states do instead of merely sealing them, would be much better, she said.  Expungement would wipe out the records, while sealing them would still leave them open to inspection by too many persons who have no licit concern, she said.  Also, she believes that in most of these cases, 10 years is harsh, being too long a wait for those who are affected.  But that too is a possible improvement of the law that must be worked on, she said.

She also commented on other limitations, such as the current complete exclusion of sex offenders from any recourse to this law.  That a small selection of such offenders might qualify to have their records closed, upon future modification of the law, was something that Goodman could envision, but she observed that sex offenders are so despised that consideration for them under the sealed records law could come only after similar consideration was made for violent felons.

In any instance, the ideal is to have an opening that allows former offenders to return to a place in society where each one can declare that “This is what I am today, not what I was at the time of my conviction.”

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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