I'm under the impression that it is legal in the USA to ask applicants if they have been convicted of a felony. I'm also under the impression that they have to answer honestly. But as a manager, I'm not really interested in knowing if they've been convicted of some unknown felony. It's not really useful information.
Instead, I'm interested if they have a history of specific crimes, like assault or theft. For example, can I ask generically if they have been convicted of a violent crime? Can I ask if they have been convicted of specific crimes, like theft or embezzlement?
I would think that some positions can get away with this because integrity might be a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ). For example, a security guard should probably not have a history of theft. A bouncer should probably not have a history of violence without provocation. If this is accurate, how far can I stretch this? If I am hiring for a secretary and I intend to trust them to manage my checking account, it seems pertinent if they've stolen before and would certainly make me think about their trustworthiness, a BFOQ, in that position.
In my specific personal examples, I would like to avoid theft (all kinds) and assault (all kinds) specifically for three reasons.
- The business operates in a separate building on the same property as my house and I feel I have a right to protect my person, family, and property by limiting the people I let be near those things,
- I would sometimes have to trust employees with credit card information and cash, and
- most employees would be required to travel by air, a stressful situation sometimes, and combining that with a history of violence sounds dangerous.
If addressing these specific things is off-topic or too much for a single answer, then just answering the broad portion at the top is fine.