Can You Terminate an Employee Charged with a Crime? Or Is Suspension More Appropriate?

Date: August 03, 2008 Last Edit: September 07, 2016

Manage Your Employees

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First, consider the clear distinction  between an arrest and a criminal conviction. Unlike convictions for criminal activity, the fact that an individual was arrested or charged with a crime does not mean the person is guilty.

Business owners have a justifiable business interest in learning about their employees’ off-duty conduct since some crimes could indicate a probable workplace security or safety concern. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has taken the position that asking applicants about arrests is discriminatory because minorities statistically tend to have a higher rate of arrests and convictions. As a result, such inquiries on a pre-employment basis could result in disparate treatment of applicants who are members of a protected class.

However, the EEOC does not prohibit employers from taking appropriate disciplinary action up to and including termination when an employee has been incarcerated or convicted of a crime provided that:

  1. Such decisions are made as a result of a valid business interest, and
  2. The employer’s policies or practices are applied in a fair and consistent manner to all employees. (See model employee handbook)

Several options are available to business owners for handling such issues when they arise. If you tend to experience a higher rate of arrested or incarcerated employees, you may wish to consider designing a policy that specifically addresses the employer’s position on arrested/incarcerated employees. If you do not want to create a policy that specifically addresses this issue, you may instead choose to follow whatever policy or practice is currently in place for dealing with unexcused absences or approved leaves.

Give careful consideration to the items listed below when drafting and implementing an applicable policy.

  • The nature of your business.
  • The nature of the crime.
  • The expected length of incarceration.
  • Whether the criminal conduct has relevance to the job the individual performs.
  • The policy should be reviewed by legal counsel prior to implementation and provide clear language relating to when off-duty conduct will result in a suspension or termination. 

Please Note: This material is provided as general information and is not a substitute for legal or other professional advice.

Article provided by SHRM

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