Over the last few months and specifically days, many have been arrested for COVID or protest-related activities. These included:
- Violating social distancing measures
- Reopening a business prior to Governor phase reopenings
- Protesting and failing to disperse
- Curfew violation
- Disorderly conduct
- Secondary offences such as drug possession
Charges can range in severity from misdemeanor to felony with varied amounts of bonds necessary for release.
Moreover, if you lose your job due to an arrest you may be unable to file for unemployment insurance.
Although our world seemed to change over night and “regular life” in general seemed to end during months of shutdowns, events or actions taken within this time period soon becomes our past and may resurface as we try to resume our pre-COVID lives.
Which begs the question, will shutdown infractions come back to haunt you?
Well first, it depends on what state you live in. Some states, such as California, have Ban the Box initiatives, prohibiting applications from including questions that relate to one’s criminal history. Many states, however, may allow the question to surface during an interview.
Secondly, it depends on what you did and if you have a good explanation if asked by a future employer.
Reasons such as trying to work to feed your family or joining others in a peaceful protest might be looked upon much more positively than explaining an assault charge.
It also depends on the employer. Many may feel strongly one way or another about social distancing measures or protesting the death of George Floyd and find empathy or concern regarding your individual actions.
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to interviews as even if the interviewer may not be in agreement with your actions, your sincerity and openness may be qualities needed for the job.
However, some employers may not have a choice. For example in some industries if an employee has a “criminal” record, licensing, contracting and sometimes insurance may not be awarded. An employer may agree with everything you’ve done and stood for but if they had to choose between two applicants, the one without the misdemeanor or felony may be more attractive.
What are your options?
Firstly, try to avoid getting arrested. This might sound obvious but for those are who under the assumption that they will not get caught, taking necessary precautions to ensure you are following the law might put you at less risk.
Consult a legal professional. Just because you were arrested does not mean you are guilty of a crime. Some charges can be reduced if not thrown out depending on what was done and your representation.
Apply for an expungement. Some states allow one to expunge their crime off their record or apply for their records to be sealed. This could prevent it from showing up on some background checks.
Be aware of unemployment insurance rules. If an employee loses their job because they broke the law, they may not be entitled to unemployment benefits.
Know the industry you’re applying to work for. Some are very regimented with employees being required to have clean records whereas others offer more flexibility.
Be prepared for changes in the state law and changes in your industry. What might protect you now may not protect you in the future.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, iHeart Radio and a Board Certified Family Physician