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California’s Governor Signs a Law That Automatically Seals Criminal Records for Felony Convictions

In California, comprehensive background checks are essential for employers who want to hire top-quality talent.

Background checks allow employers to identify qualified applicants who will be a good fit for the company and who do not have criminal backgrounds that can jeopardize the safety of customers and staff or damage the brand’s reputation.

Over the years, though, the state has introduced various legislation that impacts employment background checks. California recently passed SB-731, which automatically seals criminal records for certain felony offenders.

In this blog, we’ll discuss what this new law means for California employers and consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) and how it could impact hiring in California.

What is SB 731, and Why Was it Passed?

Governor Newsom approved SB 731 on September 29, 2022. The state passed the bill to make it easier for people with felony convictions to find employment.

The new law automatically seals the records for certain non-sex offender-related, non-violent offenses.

This bill applies primarily to individuals previously convicted of a felony, although eligibility requirements exist.

They include the following:

  • The individual’s conviction took place after January 1, 2005.
  • The individual has not been convicted of any new felony for four years.
  • The individual completed their sentence, probation, or parole as directed.

While the new law will block these records from public view, it will also expunge them and make them difficult for most employers to access.

That said, certain institutions, like schools, law enforcement officials, the courts, and state justice departments, will still have access to these sealed records.

Nationally, SB-731 is not the first of its kind. In fact, most states have laws that make provisions for some criminal record clearing.

Before SB-731, most eligible individuals (usually those with low-level offenses) had to petition state agencies or judges for clearance. However, studies have found that more than 90% of eligible offenders never apply for clearance.

To provide certain offenders with a “clean slate,” states nationwide have enacted laws, like California’s SB-731, that automatically seal records for eligible offenses, or bar them from public view.

SB 731 California: What Employers Need to Know

SB-731 goes into effect on July 1, 2023. When it does, prospective employers will no longer be able to uncover an applicant’s past felony convictions (including those that involved a sentence to state prison) if the conviction meets the criteria mentioned above.

The law makes exceptions for certain violent or severe felonies and for convictions that require sex offender registration.

SB-731 also does not affect the ability to receive or make adverse decisions based on criminal history information for people seeking teacher credentialing or jobs in public education.

How Will SB 731 Affect California Employers?

Put simply, this legislation will reduce the availability of many felony records from a seven-year window to a four-year window in California.

While this will reduce the barrier to employment for convicted felons, it may expose employers to a significantly heightened risk of hiring those whose historic behavior may make them unsuitable for certain types of work.

What Can Employers Do to Protect Themselves in the Face of SB-731?

While SB-731 is here to stay, it significantly limits employment background check visibility for employers.

To continue making good hiring decisions, employers must expand their background checks and pre-hire screening processes.

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Diversify your pre-employment screening. When possible, incorporate other checks, including employment verification and education verification. This allows you to gain a more comprehensive picture of an applicant.
  • Avoid DIY searches. With criminal history information reduced, employers might wonder if a background check is still worth it. Some may even be tempted to abandon the process and instead rely on internet searches. Doing this, however, puts the company at a considerable liability risk due to FCRA non-compliance.
  • Partner with a reputable background check company. The easiest way to stay compliant and continue making informed, beneficial hiring decisions is to work with a team like iprospectcheck to conduct legal pre-employment background checks.

iprospectcheck: Your Trusted Employment Screening Partner

Although SB-731 limits California employer visibility into applicant felony convictions, there are ways to continue doing your due diligence.

At iprospectcheck, we have access to exclusive databases that are unavailable to the public.

The result is more comprehensive, accurate background checks for you and better hiring decisions for your business.

To learn more about our background check services, request a free consultation today.

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Know Before You Hire

About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.