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What is the best way to address a past misdemeanor charge with potential employers? Is full disclosure in my best interest?

Monday September 17, 2012
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Dear Donna,

I have been an RN for 16 years and am currently employed in a hospital ED. About six years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Prior to receiving treatment and during an acute manic phase, I was arrested twice on misdemeanor charges. Unfortunately, one of them was a simple assault charge and it remains on my record. This looks terrible to potential employers. My current employer hired me despite the charges. I have had no further problems and have been under the constant care of medical professionals for my condition. What is the best way to address this with potential employers? Is full disclosure in my best interest?

Nurse with Misdemeanor

Dear Donna replies:

Dear Nurse with Misdemeanor,

There is no cut and dry way to approach this. I am wondering how you approached it with your current employer, since that obviously worked for you. The good thing is you have your current job to use as a base for future references, etc. Be sure to get a letter of reference from your current supervisor if he or she were ever to leave while you're still employed there or when you leave.

I'd hate to see you mention anything about your mental health issues on an interview, since that is protected information under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you need to or choose to reveal that you have the misdemeanor, you could approach it by saying, "I know you will likely do a criminal background check, so I wanted to let you know that I have an old misdemeanor for minor assault. It was a regrettable incident during a very difficult time in my life. But that is all in the past, and I know you'll get excellent references from my current and past employers." Then smile.

I would not bring anything up immediately unless specifically asked on an application or in an interview. At least try to get a good first interview in before casually mentioning the issue as above.

As always with challenging situations such as this, networking (using personal contacts) is your best way to find a job rather than applying online and sending out resumes to people who don't know you or that you haven't been referred or recommend to.

Best wishes,

Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nurse.com’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at www.Nurse.com/CE/7010 and www.Nurse.com/CE/7250, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to www.Nurse.com/Asktheexperts/Deardonna. Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://Events.nursingspectrum.com/Seminar.