California enacted SB 731 on September 29, 2022, greatly increasing the number of eligible felonies for automatic sealing. This means that a larger number of individuals with previous felony convictions may have their criminal records sealed, making them inaccessible to employers and other entities during background checks. As a result, SB 731 could significantly impact the hiring process and employment opportunities for people with previous felonies.
Existing Laws Regarding Criminal Background Checks
In California, existing regulations prohibit employers of five or more workers from:
- Including any questions regarding criminal history on any application for employment;
- Making inquiries, including a criminal background check on any job applicant before issuing a conditional offer of employment; or
- Considering certain types of criminal history, such as sealed convictions in making employment decisions.
Under the state’s current law, the Department of Justice runs monthly reviews within the criminal record databases to find documents eligible for automatic relief. For example, records are eligible for automotive relief if an individual was sentenced to probation, completed the terms without revocation, was convicted of misdemeanors or infractions, and met the criteria.
Expansion Under SB 731
SB 731 will take effect on July 1, 2023, and immediately expand automatic record relief to convictions for most felonies occurring on or after January 1, 2005. In addition, individuals must have completed the terms of their sentence, and four years must have passed without the defendant facing convictions for new felonies.
There are exceptions for serious and violent felonies. Such felonies include murder, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, and more. It also does not apply to registered sex offenders or release individuals from the terms and conditions of criminal protective orders.
How Does This Affect Employers?
Though this new law does not amend any existing Labor or Government codes, it will significantly impact the hiring process resulting in employers having less access to certain criminal records due to the sealing of many criminal offenses.
With this change, offenses that may have led to denied applications in the past may not lead to immediate denials now and, in some cases, must update their hiring policies to reflect these changes.