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'No Contest' and Job Applications: What to Do?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Since most job applications ask about prior felony convictions, many applicants wonder, "If I pleaded no contest to a felony charge, does that count as pleading guilty?"

No contest pleas are not the same as guilty pleas in court. But when it comes to applying for a new job, you may be stuck with some of the same consequences.

Here's what you need to know about dealing with "no contest" pleas on job applications:

Read the Exact Language of the Application

No applicant should lie on her job application, but there is also no reason to offer up potentially harmful information when it isn't required.

Most job applications contain some form of these two questions:

  • "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?"
  • "Have you ever pleaded guilty to a felony?"

Although they may seem very similar, the two questions are actually very different when it comes to someone who has entered a no contest plea to a felony.

If the employer's application asks if you've been "convicted of a felony," then you must answer "yes" because your no contest plea counts as a conviction.

If the job application asks if you've "pleaded guilty to a felony," then you may legally answer "no." But keep in mind that your employer may discover your no contest felony conviction through a background check.

Weigh Your Options

In addition to asking about your past guilty pleas or convictions, a potential employer may ask you to submit to a background check. In a criminal background check, an employer can legally view all prior felony convictions, including a no contest convictions.

There are few states which require private employers to prove that a prior conviction would be relevant to the open position, but most states allow employers to deny an applicant who has any felony conviction.

Knowing that your employer can potentially find out about your no contest felony conviction even if you answer "no" on your application, you must decide if you want to disclose that information.

It is not fraud or a lie to answer "no" when the question asks about guilty pleas and you've only pleaded no contest. However, you may want to be upfront about your no contest conviction; it may speak well of your character to save your potential employer from any "surprises" on a background check.

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