I just want to smash the state a LITTLE bit...
October 26, 2011 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Theoretically, if I were to be arrested at Occupy Wall Street, what would that mean for my future employability?

So, I have several friends down at OWS, and I've been stopping by a lot because I work near the park. My parents are very worried that I will show up at a bad time, be arrested, and then, essentially, be unemployable forever because I'll have an arrest on my record.

To be honest, that sounds crazy to me. I don't think I'm likely to be arrested if I'm not participating in civil disobedience, but beyond that... would most employers actually care about this? I mean, if I've never had so much as a parking ticket, would this actually matter? My dad was putting it in terms of an employer who was opposed to the goals of OWS, but... I mean, really?

Can anyone give me some more perspective on this? Do you have any arrests on your record from protests, and if so, how has it affected your life? I guess I always thought of this type of arrest as about as serious as an overdue library book, but just how wrong was I?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This probably depends a great deal on the state you're in, the type of crime you're charged with, and the type of job you're applying for. In short, you should probably check with a lawyer, and probably one used to working with protesters and activists.
posted by jquinby at 11:41 AM on October 26, 2011

It depends - is it a misdemeanor or a felony? In which state are you applying for a job?

Some states, like Pennsylvania, have it written into law that you cannot be barred from employment for a misdemeanor or a felony conviction. However, you do need to disclose those charges, and failure to do so could mean you will not be selected.

As long as you're not doing anything too malicious, you're probably fine. The likely charge is a summary offense, which is similar to a disorderly conduct or other small infraction. Companies see this all the time, and unless you're applying to a bank, financial institution or top government position, you should be fine.

It's also important if you're actually charged with the crime or not. If you're arrested and put in jail for a night and the charges are dismissesd, that's totally different from throwing rocks through a plate glass window and stealing from a store, and then being convicted for it.

As usual, IANYL.
posted by glaucon at 11:44 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, in summation, don't smash stuff, don't resist police if they do arrest you, try to be in view of a camera if possible and be peaceful. If this is something you care about, an arrest for peacefully protesting will likely not bar you from any job you want.
posted by glaucon at 11:45 AM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't speak to the whole industry, but I know that when involved in hiring at my previous job, we weren't interested at all in misdemeanors. Felonies were relevant, however, as it may affect your ability to get licensed, clearance, etc.
posted by introp at 11:49 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Arrests and charges don't matter for most non-security-clearance-required jobs.

Felony convictions do.
posted by de void at 11:55 AM on October 26, 2011

It depends what you get charged with, and whether it sticks. On the low end, you get hit with a citation (which is basically about as heavy as a parking ticket) or you're arrested and released later without being charged. Middle, you get a misdemeanor, which most employers don't tend to care or ask about. Always read forms carefully. Some ask if you've ever been convicted while others ask if you've ever been convicted of a felony. Don't disclose anything you're not asked to disclose. At the high end is a felony, which almost always has to be disclosed in some way or another

(...then again, if you're trying to get a job with security clearance, everything matters.)
posted by griphus at 11:58 AM on October 26, 2011

While I certainly can't give you legal advice and I don't know much at all about these specific protests, I happened to read a case recently about people who were arrested because they were in a park where a protest was going on, though they were not protesters. The case was about the legality of that arrest. Memail me if you're interested in more details.

Is it likely that you'll be arrested? Is it POSSIBLE that you'll be arrested? Those are definitely different questions.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:59 AM on October 26, 2011

Arrested is one thing, and it does not matter too much - convicted is the key issue.

If you have a reserve of money to hire a good lawyer, and you do not do anything particularly violent or dangerous - then (though an arrest is very possible) a conviction seems highly unlikely
posted by Flood at 12:00 PM on October 26, 2011

In addition to remembering that "being arrested" is quite different from "being convicted" (and that "being convicted of a felony" is quite different from "being convicted of a misdmeanor"), carry the ACLU What to do if you are stopped by the Police (.pdf) card and be familiar with its advice. Right now, I don't think there are lots of convictions coming out of OWS.

The National Lawyers Guild's Mass Defense Committee has set up legal observers, as well as some resources for legal aid in conjunction with the Occupy protests. Search for the NLG chapter in your city for more information.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:15 PM on October 26, 2011

Sometimes it seems like nearly everyone I know has been arrested multiple times over the years at various protests. One has worked for the city and for nonprofits; another is a guidance counselor in the public school system; another is a medical professional who works part-time at a prison; another was a professor at the London School of Economics and is either a barrister or solicitor (I forget which) in the UK (he was in the U.S. when he got arrested).

As far as I know, none of them faced felony charges. In some or many cases, charges ended up getting dropped; in other cases, lawsuits were won against the police department for civil rights violations. YMMV.
posted by rtha at 12:16 PM on October 26, 2011

Your parents are being crazy, and obviously it comes from a place of wanting you to be totally safe and and secure in the present and future. You might try explaining to them that the entire point of the movement is to help ensure that there are fewer economic obstacles to your getting any kind of job at all.

This is the kind of thing where you have to trust your instincts and follow your heart, even if that means breaking your parents' a little.
posted by hermitosis at 12:16 PM on October 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

On failure to preview: If you do go, memorize the phone number for the NLG.
posted by rtha at 12:16 PM on October 26, 2011

Don't do anything violent or destructive. If you are told to leave then skedaddle. There are many observers, friends and curious bystanders around OWS I am sure.

In 1982 I was arrested intentionally as part of the Livermore Action Group blockade and the charges ended up being similar to jaywalking (blocking a public roadway).
posted by lathrop at 12:37 PM on October 26, 2011

I would be significantly more concerned if you ever want a job in finance, security, the defense industry, biotechnology, etc. Also, it depends on what you get arrested for/charged with. Holding some guy's coat could turn into a drug possession charge, for instance, which is much worse than a disorderly conduct citation.
posted by SMPA at 12:39 PM on October 26, 2011

Depends entirely on what you want to be when you grow up. Where I work, having been arrested for smashing the state a little would be points in your favour, since smashing the state a little (a very tiny, tiny little, ok, denting the state) is what we do.
posted by looli at 12:50 PM on October 26, 2011

Arrested? Nope, not going to show up on a normal background check (I don't know about security clearance checks though). Only convictions are going to show up.

Also, it isn't like the background check is going to say "Arrested at Occupy Wall Street" It is going to say:
2012 - January 19 (because it take a while for an arrest to turn into a conviction remember)
Criminal Trespass (or whatever you are convicted of)
90 days probation
New York City, New York

The company you are hiring for is going to have to do some serious digging and calling around to figure out it happened at Occupy Wall Street and are they going to do that? No.

As long as everything you are doing there is legal the chances of you getting CONVICTED of something go way down. So don't bring drugs or stand on private property or resist arrest or anything like that.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:58 PM on October 26, 2011

I have been asked, when applying for jobs, whether I had ever been -arrested-. Not convicted or charged or anything else, just arrested. And it's not uncommon for companies to have policies stating that any falsehood on an application is a firing offense, regardless of what it is or when it's discovered.

Which isn't my way of saying avoid being arrested at all costs, but yes, you could run up against a circumstance where you have to answer and could find yourself needing to say you got arrested at a peaceful protest.

You can get some anecdotal answers here but I don't know that anyone can tell you for sure if this will ever bite you in the ass. I think the one true answer is "maybe." It's not even necessarily employment; my wife and I are early in the adoption process and one of the home study questions was "have either of you ever been arrested?"

Would that preclude us from adoption? I don't think so, given the nature of the arrest. But it could come up and it could have repercussions.

Personally my position in my career has been "the hell with them" on a number of issues that I feel strongly about. But it has costs, and you should be aware of their possibility.
posted by phearlez at 1:17 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I work in social services and on top of that, I work with children. Our hiring criteria regarding criminal history is really strict. I have plenty of co-worker and friends in the field with protest related arrest records. No problem!
posted by dchrssyr at 1:21 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

If people with misdemeanor arrests were unemployable forever, the unemployment rate would be much, much higher than it is. I know plenty of activists who have been arrested and are employed.

However: if you were currently employed, I'd worry - your employer might have some kind of morals or conduct clause in your contract. I'd also make sure to never lie on future job applications (but don't volunteer more info than they ask for, either). This holds 100x for security clearances.
posted by desjardins at 1:30 PM on October 26, 2011

I have been asked, when applying for jobs, whether I had ever been -arrested-. Not convicted or charged or anything else, just arrested. And it's not uncommon for companies to have policies stating that any falsehood on an application is a firing offense, regardless of what it is or when it's discovered.

This is generally regarded as an illegal to ask this question. Asking if someone has been convicted of a crime is okay.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:31 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Note asking about arrests seems to usually be regulated at the state level. New York actually seems to outlaw this question
posted by bitdamaged at 1:35 PM on October 26, 2011

There is a small chance that you might get arrested. If you get arrested there is a small chance you might get convicted, even if you did nothing. If you get convicted it will have an effect, small or large, on your employability.

BUT, if you let your parents convince you that this risk makes it not worth supporting a cause you believe in, then they have done you a far greater disservice than merely letting you put yourself in danger.
posted by 256 at 1:40 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you get arrested, it will probably be as part of a larger "police action." The commanding officer of that might be a cowboy with an agenda, but he won't be the arresting officer, because he doesn't want to do the 6 hours of paper work. The arresting officer who you are handed to is probably just some guy doing his job, so be civil with him, and he will most likely be civil with you. He may have been told to throw the book at you, but he has options all along the pipeline to cushion the blow.

You should have the phone number of a lawyer with you.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:08 PM on October 26, 2011

It probably depends on many things (your location, your line of work, the size of the company...), but the only time I've ever been asked anything of this sort has been a question on the "formal application" I've filled out after they made me an offer. At my most recent job, I believe the wording was, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony? If yes, please explain."

It might be something state-specific, and my memory is a bit hazy anyway, but I believe my previous employer's question was something like, "Have you been convicted of a felony in the past seven years" or something of that sort.
posted by fogster at 5:57 PM on October 26, 2011

I've been arrested 13 times for civil disobedience. In all but 2 of those arrests, I was planning to be arrested, and had the opportunity to leave before it happened. Most charges were dropped -- I think I've actually been convicted of a couple of infractions (trespassing, blocking the sidewalk, e.g.)

I am happily employed by a non-profit, and have in the past worked for the local city government. Only 1 of those employers asked me about my criminal convictions (*not* arrests). I am proud of, and quite open about, my activism and my civil disobedience arrests. It probably helps that my professional line of work now is directly related to what I was getting arrested for, but I have never had an employer or a potential employer bat an eye.

A couple of tips -- know the NLG phone number and use it. If you're feeling uncomfortable about a situation, leave, but try to leave with someone else if you can. If there are large mass arrests there will likely be political pressure to drop all the charges. In fact, charges for civil disobedience arrests are often dropped.
posted by gingerbeer at 6:42 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

My mom was arrested at the big Seabrook anti-Nuke rallies in the '70's. I believe she was also convicted of criminal trespass, but I was pretty young at the time.

She worked in a very conservative industry for many years, until she retired a few years ago. Her criminal record never kept her from getting a good job and progressing upward through her career path.
posted by anastasiav at 6:33 AM on October 27, 2011

I'm going to amend my answer. These days a lot of companies search for your name online. People have not been hired because they have stupid drunk pictures on Facebook, so I would also imagine they wouldn't be hired at those companies if their name was in a news article about OWS arrests. Perhaps there are too many arrests in NYC to publish everyone's name, but in smaller cities (e.g., Milwaukee, where I live) there has been only one arrest of which I'm aware, and that person's name has been prominently splashed all over the news. That's the primary reason I'd personally stay on the fringes; I'm a temp employee and I don't want to compromise my future ability to find work. I'm sure I wouldn't be unemployable FOREVER, but in the short term, while it's fresh on everyone's mind, I don't think it would help matters.
posted by desjardins at 7:03 AM on October 27, 2011

Just one more bit of anecdata: I have written quite a bit about my arrest and conviction (misdemeanor for criminal trespass) and have had it online for over a decade. I always put my website on my resume, and while I've rarely been asked about a criminal record at job interviews, I, like gingerbeer, have never shied away from talking about it. I've gotten several good jobs in libraries with that on my record.

However, I'm also an upper-middle class white person with two masters degrees and a lot of other cultural capital. You may remember this study on "The Mark of a Criminal Record" done a few years back which, as I recall, found it was easier for a white man with a conviction to get a job than a black man without one.
posted by newrambler at 2:07 PM on October 27, 2011

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