September 5, 2013

Editorial: State should be asking job applicants about criminal convictions

State Personnel Board’s 2010 decision to remove criminal history questions from applications was bound to backfire

This is the kind of decision that drives California taxpayers bonkers and breeds distrust of government.

The State Personnel Board removed from the general job application two simple questions that commonly appear on job and college applications elsewhere: “Have you ever been convicted by any court of a felony?” and “Have you ever been convicted by any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence?”

Job applicants shouldn’t be automatically disqualified if they have a criminal record. People deserve a second chance to overcome a mistake. Depending on the offense and the type of job, a criminal history might not matter.

All that said, state hiring managers ought to know if the person they’re considering is guilty of a past crime. It’s a basic piece of information.

The state Department of Human Resources says the form was changed in June 2010 to clear up confusion about which of the 4,000-plus job classifications were positions where it was relevant to ask about criminal history.

The department also told The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board last week that safeguards are in place to keep convicted felons out of sensitive jobs. Criminal background checks are required for law enforcement officers, prison guards and others. Applicants for some other jobs must fill out supplemental applications that include criminal history questions.

Still, all those precautions didn’t stop a convicted embezzler from getting rehired by the state, as reported by The Sacramento Bee.

Carey Renee Moore embezzled some $320,000 as a state Department of Child Support Services purchasing officer. She bought a Lexus, a hot tub and electronics, plus pornographic videos and sex toys. She was arrested in February 2007 and resigned for “personal reasons” just before she was about to be fired. Under workplace law, a state agency must accept a resignation and cannot put documentation of a crime in the worker’s personnel file. That let her eventually apply for another state job. That’s a law that needs some tweaking.

In October 2007, she pleaded no contest to felony grand theft and served two years in state prison. It was soon after her release when the Personnel Board changed its application form. Free from being asked about her crime and using a different last name following a divorce, Moore got a job with the California High-Speed Rail Authority. In her application, she described her time behind bars as a “voluntary resignation” due to “personal family circumstances.”

Hired in December 2011, Moore wasn’t found out until her paycheck was docked to start collecting more than $373,000 in restitution. A rail official inquired about that in March 2012; four months later, she was fired for lying to get the job.

Ending such cases should be high on the Department of Human Resources agenda.

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