The Clean Slate Act Movement Gains Momentum in New York

January 18 2024
3 min read

With a new piece of legislation, the state of New York recently added itself to the growing list of states striving to give those with criminal histories a fresh start. There is little doubt that the intent behind Clean Slate Acts is commendable. However, many employers question how they will know who they’re hiring considering these and other laws restricting the information available to them.

Employers are justifiably concerned about the potentially devastating consequences of hiring the wrong person, including negligent hiring claims and decreased workplace safety. Before diving into New York’s specific legislation, it’s important to have a basic understanding of Clean Slate Acts and their implications on employers. 

Ready to work with a background screening provider who can help you navigate through Clean Slate laws? Schedule time to Speak with Our Team and get started today.

What are Clean Slate Acts?

Clean Slate Acts are legislative measures to expunge or seal certain criminal records. As a part of criminal justice reform, they strive to foster a more equitable system by acknowledging the importance of giving people a second chance to rebuild their lives without prolonged consequences of their past behavior.

The laws are intended to offer individuals a fresh start after completing their sentences based on the premise that past convictions may hinder reintegration into society by limiting employment and housing opportunities. Typically, these laws automate the clearing of records for specific low-level offenses, although some states require a petition to the court to do so.

What are the Impacts of Clean Slate Acts on Employers?

While many believe that Clean Slate Acts offer numerous benefits, they also can pose significant challenges for employers. One potential negative impact brought up by employers is the concern about workplace safety, especially for roles that require a high level of trust or involve handling sensitive information.

Some employers worry about the lack of visibility into an applicant’s complete background, potentially compromising the safety and security of the workplace. Others may face difficulties assessing an individual’s suitability for specific roles, impacting their ability to make informed hiring decisions. Striking a balance between providing second chances and ensuring workplace safety remains a challenge for employers navigating Clean Slate Laws.

What does New York’s Clean Slate Act do?

Effective November 16, 2024, the conviction records of individuals convicted of certain state crimes will be sealed from public access once they have completed their sentences and maintained law-abiding behavior for a specified period of time. Specifically, convictions under the Clean Slate Act include:

  • misdemeanors when at least three years have passed since the individual’s release from incarceration or the imposition of sentence (if there was no incarceration), and
  • felonies when at least eight years have passed from the date the individual was last released from incarceration, as long as the individual:
    • (i)    does not have a criminal charge pending; and
    • (ii)    is not currently under the supervision of any probation or parole department.

Convictions involving Class A felonies (where a maximum life sentence could be imposed) are not eligible for sealing in New York under the new law.

What Other States’ Clean Slate Acts Became Effective in 2023?

Clean Slate Acts to seal certain criminal records have become increasingly prevalent over the past several years. In 2023 alone, Clean Slate Acts in Arizona, Connecticut, Michigan, and Alaska all became effective. Just as with other laws impacting background checks, it’s important to note that each state’s law has its own nuances. For example, Arizona is upon petition only, while Connecticut and Michigan will automatically clear certain types of convictions. Still others, including Alaska, will focus on specific crimes, such as marijuana possession.

As always, it’s imperative for employers to understand the laws in their own states and the states in which they do business to ensure they remain in compliance. As for New York, employers should review their hiring processes regarding an applicant’s criminal history and make any necessary adjustments prior to the November 16, 2024 effective date.

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Orange Tree is an expert in background screening services, including being compliant with Clean Slate Laws. Schedule time to speak with our team to discuss a background screening program tailored to your company's unique needs.

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