Can Someone Work in Healthcare With a Criminal Record?

The healthcare industry is massive in size and scope, and it serves millions of peoples at many levels of need every day. Meeting that demand requires the right employees in the right places—but hiring in this space has been as challenging as it has been in many other sectors for the last few years. Can your organization consider hiring someone with a criminal record? Find out what the law says and what your business needs to know today.

The healthcare sector today is far more than the primary care physician's office or the regional hospital serving hundreds or thousands of patients. Today's healthcare industry encompasses nursing homes, in-home care providers, hospices, and many other organizations that aim to help look after the human body. With such a broad sector, there is an incredible demand for qualified employees in both unlicensed and licensed roles. Hiring enough staff to meet these needs is a challenge facing virtually everyone in the industry today.

The nature of the work involved also means that a greater level of scrutiny is necessary than would be called for in other industries, such as retail or construction. Healthcare workers may have access to sensitive patient data, vulnerable individuals, potent prescription medications, and much more. Preventing disruption to the provision of high-quality care means ensuring that your organization hires employees of the highest caliber—so are criminal records that show up on background checks for healthcare employees an instant barrier to hiring them?

The answer to that depends and understanding it begins with considering why healthcare workers undergo so much more scrutiny in many places.

Why Criminal Records Receive More Scrutiny in Healthcare

The large number of opportunities for wrongdoing to take place in healthcare environments necessitates stricter controls. One doesn't have to look far to find troubling stories, such as elder care associates who steal from those in their care or even convince them to sign over huge amounts of assets. In hospital settings, multiple prior drug convictions could be a red flag for potential wrongdoing if that person might have access to the hospital's pharmacy or dispensary. Cases involving the theft of powerful opioid medication for personal use aren't uncommon, either.

These concerns relate primarily to property, but negligent healthcare workers can cause real harm to patients, too. Though a felony conviction for aggravated assault or battery might not necessarily guarantee someone will act out violently again in the future, will they be a good, safe fit for a pediatric oncology floor? These are the difficult questions healthcare employers must address during the hiring process. That's not to mention the simple fact that in most states across the US, lawmakers have laid down hard and firm requirements concerning vetting applicants to work in this industry.

State Laws May Tie the Hands of Employers

In most private employment settings, managers have a wide-ranging latitude to make hiring decisions based on their own preferences. Except where constrained by "ban the box" and Fair Chance laws, employers are usually free to decide what offenses they find disqualifying for employment within their establishment. In healthcare, however, lawmakers in virtually every state have taken the proactive step of laying out an array of conviction types that automatically disqualify individuals from working in the industry.

These disqualifying offenses vary from state to state but most often include crimes of violence, sex crimes, and others. Many prohibit felony convictions for these crimes, while some may extend the prohibition to misdemeanor crimes as well. It is important for healthcare organizations to familiarize themselves with local rules and regulations concerning healthcare background checks. For example, in 2020, Florida updated its regulations to include crimes such as "battery on a vulnerable adult" to its list of disqualifying offenses.

Even if you wish to implement a fair chance-inspired hiring policy to expand opportunities within your community, you must continue to abide by the disqualification requirements laid out by the state in which you operate.

Some Job Seekers Can Earn Exemptions or Waivers 

Just as many states have recognized the potential risk of hiring someone with a conviction to work in healthcare, many have also recognized it is not fully fair to bar these people always and forever. In the same spirit as "fair chance" legislation, states may provide a method for individuals to obtain a "waiver from disqualification." This formal application process is not similar to an expungement or sealing of a record; it does not alter the individual's criminal record in any way. Rather, it is an initial determination that the person has permission to seek a job in healthcare.

That does not guarantee the job-seeker a position. However, it does provide a shield against immediate dismissal of their application because of a disqualifying conviction. Exemption waivers often come with multiple requirements, including paying all court fines and fees and waiting several years after the completion of a sentence. Typically, sex crimes are not ever eligible for waivers in any state.

Applicants must provide employers with their exemption when applying to ensure it receives consideration at the appropriate time. You may still deny an applicant who has obtained a waiver based on your personal decisions. On the other side, it will be very difficult for your business to be held negligent or liable for hiring such an individual when the state supplies a waiver.

Finding the Right Information to Make Smart Determinations

By now, it should be clear that there are many cases in which someone with a criminal conviction may not be able to work in the healthcare industry. Even if they arrive with a waiver in hand, you must still carry out the steps of your due diligence process from start to finish. There is no guarantee that the waiver covers everything, and you may still find more disqualifying information along the way. So how do you do that?

Though there is no "official" government-maintained database of all criminal records nationwide, professional consumer reporting agencies such as work tirelessly to compile information from state and local systems for rapid reporting solutions. In most states, it is possible to receive a broad-based background report on an applicant within minutes. Further vetting, including state and especially county-level background checks, can reveal additional information or provide important clarifying details to convictions you've already uncovered.

Using these tools in conjunction with other vetting tactics is a simple way to ensure that you both meet your legal requirements and filter out the best candidates for hiring. Remember to review the list of disqualifying offenses in your state and evaluate the background reports you receive with those in mind.

Protecting Patients and Fostering Better Outcomes

Background checks alone can't predict future behavior or fully protect organizations from the actions of those acting in bad faith. Still, they can go a long way towards reducing crimes of opportunity. Alongside checking for criminal records and disqualifying applicants in accordance with state law, employers in this space must also carefully verify licenses, education, and experience. Failing to do so could lead to serious problems.

For organizations, meeting healthcare background check requirements is more than a matter of compliance: your efforts can impact patient experiences and ultimately act as a safeguard against theft, misuse of information, or even violent crime. Powering up your process with the right solutions to make it simpler to meet these requirements is an important step you can't overlook. 

Review the laws that apply to your organization based on where you operate and ensure you have the tools available to build a framework for safe, effective hiring at every level of the industry. Discover advanced reporting solutions for modern healthcare organizations and in-depth compliance information today with

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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