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Thursday, February 07, 2008

What is the Worst that Can Happen?

Hello Evil HR Lady,

I'm hoping you can help me with an uncomfortable situation. I promise this is not a fictional story. It really happened. And I'm hoping you can give me some honest feedback.

I'm 43 years old and have been working in medical marketing for the past 7 years or so. For the last two years, my husband was on a short-term government assignment in the D.C area. I decided to freelance (writing and communications) during that time since I knew we would only be in the area for a short time.

My husband was actually working for a certain government agency in the D.C. area. I'm still not clear on what happened...all I know is that his department was being investigated. One day, while conducting an interview for a book I was writing, I heard someone pounding on our front door.

I was still in my PJs.

I went down to answer the door and saw that there were a few people at the door. They were wearing sunglasses and windbreakers. As I started to open the door, a big, gurly guy began to push the door open. I yelled 'Noooooo' and tried to shove the door shut. My first reaction was that someone was trying to break into my house and I was terrified.

Before I even realized what was happening, 20 people (cops, federal agents and people in black) were swarming into my house. The rather large fellow who shoved my front door open slammed me against the wall and pulled my arms behind my back.

I realize this all sounds pretty wild and an episode of "24" or something...but it really happened. To say I was in shock was an understatement. They showed me the search warrant and began rummaging through my house while I was forced to sit at our dining room table for over two hours.

I did point out that I was injured. My elbow was scraped up and badly bruised. One of the agents got a camera and took photos of my injuries. They asked if I needed "immediate medical attention" and I said "no." The last thing I wanted at that point was an ambulance showing up at my house. The neighbors were already stopping to see what was happening.

Later that evening, my husband took me to the ER to get checked out. My blood pressure was extremely high and they noted the contusions/lacerations on my arm. I was given Valium and Xanax (for anxiety) and sent home.

I realize that life is not fair, but I've never done anything wrong in my life. I'm your basic law-abiding person. I give to charity. I volunteer at soup kitchens. I love animals and am kind to old people. I have the same mood swings as any other peri-menopausal woman, but I'm essentially a good egg.

So, imagine my surprise when I was contacted a week later by one of the detectives who was at my house. She informed me that a warrant had been issued for my arrest. This was beyond shocking. I was told that I was being charged with a FELONY - obstruction of justice.

An attorney friend of mine assures me that the warrant probably happened because the cop who shoved me was worried that I would try to sue him. So he trumped up a charge in order to make it difficult for me to press charges against him.

Maybe that is what happened. I just don't know. What I DO know is that once I realized what was happening, I was 150% cooperative. It was just that initial burst into my house that scared the wits out of me.

My husband was caught up in all of this, but was totally cleared. He hadnt done anything wrong.

So, just because I tried to push the front door closed when the cop tried to force his way in (and I didnt even realize he was a cop at that point) I was allowed to turn myself in and was booked, fingerprinted, etc.

Two months later, I went to court and my lawyer managed to get the felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor of "disorderly conduct".

So, the bottom line is, I now have a criminal record. My lawyer told me, "oh, it's only a misdemeanor. No one will care about that." But, I'm not so sure. We've recently relocated back to Southern CA and I'm afraid to look for work in my field. I have a good repuation in my industry, but I have no idea how I would even begin to explain this situation. It was the biggest nightmare of my life - and I've now been penalized for being scared to death.

I cannot have any of this expunged because the state of VA (where this happened) does not do that.

I know that companies do criminal checks. WHAT in the world would I say to a potential employer? Do I tell them upfront that I have an arrest record and explain what happened? I realize it sounds like a wild story, but my lawyer has agreed to talk to any potential employer and back me up.

Will a company automatically reject me because of this? Will I be doomed to doing freelance work forever?

I have been somewhat paralyzed by this situation and am hoping you can help me. I would like the unvarnished truth so that I know what I'll be dealing with.

The company that I'm most interested is a Fortune 500 company. I'm terrified to even contact them about a job because of my situation.

I apologize for this long email, but look forward to any insights/feedback you can provide.

I normally would edit a question this long, but I found your story fascinating. I would comment on many aspects, but this is not a political blog. Suffice it to say that as a law abiding citizen, I would have freaked out like you did.

You are interested in a Fortune 500 company, but you are terrified to apply because of your "record." Let me ask this question: What is the worst thing that can happen?

Being a rather cynical and negative soul, I frequently assume the worst will happen, so this is a game I'm good at. Here it is: The worst thing that will happen is that you will apply for the job and they...drum roll please...won't hire you.

Now, what will happen if you don't apply? Drum roll please...they won't hire you.

Notice that you are currently living out the worst case scenario. Why do we do that to ourselves? You had a traumatic experience and you are letting it prevent you from going out and achieving a goal.

Now, as someone who is so traumatized by even the fear of getting a speeding ticket that I am the annoying person going the speed limit (in the right hand lane, mind you, I'm not that annoying), I can see why you are upset.

It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of a past conviction unless it relates to the job. I presume you are applying for a writing job, so I can't see a good argument for this being job related. Even so, it's a misdemeanor, not a felony.

The hiring manager will likely never know. The staffing person has seen much, much, much, worse and you will barely get a yawn. Just be honest on your application. Take a deep breath and apply.

You may or may not get the job, but it's doubtful that a misdemeanor that you've declared on the application will be the reason.


Krupo said...

Good response to the story.

Besides, if I were conducting an interview and learned about this, I would be trans-fixed, amazed, and probably more inclined to hire the person (all things held equal), because they withstood all that insanity, AND had the presence of mine to close said door (i.e., able to fight back).

It's disappointing to hear that all charges weren't fought off successfully - but I guess the morale of the story is to in fact call for the paramedics when they bruise you.

I hate police brutality. :(

Daniel said...

Evil: Each state law regarding convictions and the use of such information by employers is different. Connecticut, for example, only prohibits the state from using past convictions for employment decisions, but not private employers.

That said, honesty in the best policy. Ultimately, an employer who is willing to overlook such a minor transgression is probably a place you would want to work for anyways.

Bunny Meadows said...

Hi, this Bunny, the vicious "criminal" who unknowingly tried to prevent govt agents from storming her are all making me feel a little better. A close friend of mine has repeatedly told me that she's impressed by how strong I've been throughout this process. She said she would have lost her mind if in my shoes. In previous positions, I've had inputs on hiring decisions and I KNOW how judgmental people can be. I also worry that if there were multiple, qualified candidates, I would be (unofficially) eliminated because of my "record."

But, Evil HR lady has made me realize that I HAVE to try to shake off this fear and move forward - because it is really destroying me.

Bunny Meadows said...

P.S. to Krupo: My lawyer contacted as many of the agents who were at my house that day to see if they would vouch for me at a trial. I was actually going to insist on a trial and not take a plea.

Do you know that every single person he contacted SWORE that I was wrong and the agent was in the right? They all insisted that I "slammed the door" in his face (not true). My lawyer said, "you're screwed - you do not want to end up with a felony conviction. take the plea." As I said, so much for our justice system!

Jeremiah said...

police officers, federal agents ALWAYS stick together. There is no way they would help you. I am the son of a police officer and have had many arguments with what write and wrong.

Jen McCabe Gorman said...

Excellent advice as usual Lady Evil.

Bunny, my take is if they want to hire you they'll hire you (may even have been the case with a felony conviction if you want to really dive down deep into worst-case -scenario thinking).

This kind of scenario could also have (unfortunately) happened to someone during a routine traffic stop (resisting arrest, etc).

As Krupo said, this may even be a bit of a competitive advantage.

Envision your answer to a Fortune 500's HR manager questioning..."So Bunny, tell me how you overcame a difficult challenge."

Plus, if you're really, ahem, daring, you may be able to turn this into a usable portfolio piece. Write up your incredible story and get it published either on the web somewhere, in an association magazine, etc., and include a bit of it in your writing samples.

Now, granted, that idea is a bit nuts, but it would certainly show the interviewer who looks closely enough you're over it and have used the experience to draw on a core of inner resolve that would only benefit your future employer.

Bunny said...

Hi Jen,

Bunny here again. Thank you. You all have no idea how much this is helping me. I live in Northern CA and I believe the law here says that employers cant ask about drug-related over 2 yrs old.

I hadn't thought of turning this into a "plus." Maybe I should simply go on the offensive, be willing to talk about it, etc.

It also hadn't occurred to me to write about it...mostly because each time I "go there" I get very stressed out and even a little depressed.

You know, because of the nature of the investigation, they seized all of our computer equipment. I was up against VERY tight deadlines, all of which I managed to meet (I worked at Kinko's for a week and used old emails to access files that I had been working on). I was also planning an event for a client and, even though I was a wreck, I was always entirely professional and positive. As I said, it never occurred to me to think of those things as attributes.

I feel like a weight has been lifted! THANKS! You HR people arent as scary as I imagined!

cboyd said...

You could consider offering a letter from your attorney explaining the charges during the application process... I know I would bring you in for an interview just to meet the person behind the story!

In all seriousness, I would offer the letter as an explanation of the charges as soon as you are extended an offer (usually this is before the background check is run). That would counter any suspicion that you're trying to cover the charges and since the misdemeanor is not job related, it is unlikely the recruiter/staffing rep would disqualify you as a result.

Best of luck!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I was completely entranced, dumbfounded, and blown away by your situation. I haven't had similar traumatic experiences, but your question prompted some sound advice from EHRL that has been useful for me to hear--operating from a worst case scenario--they won't hire me. Well they sure won't hire me especially if I don't apply. EHRL, thanks for a comment that has helped me realize why I've been procrastinating on serious job hunting. Keep up the "evil" advice, and best wishes to you Bunny!

Just another HR lady.... said...

I would be leaning across the interview table enthralled by this story, they definitely wouldn't forget who you were during the hiring process. lol!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, this is the country we live in and it's quite disconcerting. That aside, honesty is the best policy here. Nothing irks an HR person more than finding something out about a candidate they were going to hire, after the fact and having to rescind an offer. (This just recently happened to me). Honesty and character mean a lot to potential employers and this is a great way to prove you have both. Best of luck!

Katherine said...

I work for a company in California, and we do extensive background checks.

We ask on the application if you've ever been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor other than minor traffic violations (speeding ticket, red light, etc.) So coming into an interview, I'd know if you had a conviction or not.

In my department, since we don't handle cash, I don't ask about the conviction. Unless it's stated as a DUI, and you're being hired to drive our vehicles, it doesn't matter to me as a hiring manager if you have one offense on your record.

In my experience, interviewees are way to eager to share why they were arrested. Our background check is totally separate, and something I don't ever see. All I do is tell candidates to be honest in the background process, we will not hire people who don't disclose.

Now in your situation, your case is unique enough that as stated above, it would make a great reference in an interview, especially in an overcoming adversity type question. Also, knowing about your arrest, if there was an issue with backgrounds, I'd be more inclined to see if there was something we could do about it.

Usually, if someone doesn't make it through backgrounds, I hire my second choice, unless there is a compelling reason to fight for them. Hearing this story in an interview, and assuming you were the candidate I wanted to hire, would give me a compelling reason to fight. The letter from your attorney wouldn't hurt either.

Megster67 said...

Wow. I like Katherine's idea of spinning the story into the interview process - it would definitely be a memorable tale and could be used to illustrate many points. I don't know if all HR or hiring managers are savvy enough to discern between a conviction that's related to your field and one that is not, but at a large company, they almost certainly will be. I agree with Evil - you have nothing to lose by trying because you are already living the worst-case scenario.

Anonymous said...

Bunny, can you produce references from the clients you served so well during this ordeal. Those, combined with the facts of the case, would show me that you are an exceptional candidate...the kind that let's nothing stop her from keeping her word.

Bunny Meadows said...

One more question: if I note on an application - before I've even been called in for the interview - that I've been arrested and convicted of "disorderly conduct" (misdemeanor) will that automatically make an HR dept less inclined to call me for an interview?

This has been an extraordinarily difficult year, and all of your responses have proven to me once again that people are, on a most basic level, kind and caring.

I will ask my lawyer to draft a letter that I can offer to prospective employers. That is a great idea!

Bunny Meadows said...

One more question: if I note on an application - before I've even been called in for the interview - that I've been arrested and convicted of "disorderly conduct" (misdemeanor) will that automatically make an HR dept less inclined to call me for an interview?

This has been an extraordinarily difficult year, and all of your responses have proven to me once again that people are, on a most basic level, kind and caring.

I will ask my lawyer to draft a letter that I can offer to prospective employers. That is a great idea!

mary said...

yes,police officers, federal agents ALWAYS stick together. There is no way they would help you. I am the son of a police officer and have had many arguments with what write and wrong.
California Dui