CQE is a valuable tool for employers and employees

The State of Ohio would need a forest’s worth of trees to print every law on its books, which is why many law offices only utilize the online version of the Ohio Revised Code. “The text is massive,” attorney Sasha Naiman said, stretching her hands as far apart as possible.

“There are almost 1,000 laws that limit what a person with a criminal record can do,” she said, “and about 650 of those affect employers.”

In her role as Deputy Director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, Naiman is familiar with the many laws that restrict individuals with a past conviction – and one valuable law that can lift those restrictions.

Ohio offers a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE), which allows job-seekers to pursue jobs or professional licenses in fields where they otherwise would be disqualified by having a criminal record, such as childcare or healthcare. It also relieves the employer of some liability when hiring such individuals.

“It is meant to be a tool that helps both sides,” Naiman said. “It opens doors that might have been closed.”

A CQE does not seal or expunge a criminal record, it does not guarantee the job-seeker will get hired, and it does not guarantee that he or she will not commit another offense. But it allows the state to vet an individual based on his or her behavior since the last offense, rather than judge them solely by their criminal record.

It is an intense process that usually takes 2 – 6 months from application to resolution. First, the job-seeker must wait until a certain amount of time has passed since their most recent offense (generally, 6 months for a misdemeanor or 1 year for a felony, but there are exceptions that allow an individual to apply sooner). Then the job-seeker must apply through the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, provide references, submit evidence of positive behavior, and explain why they want a CQE. A Common Pleas Court judge reviews the application and may require the job-seeker to appear in court for a hearing.

Since the CQE was created in 2012, 201 individuals have applied for it in Hamilton County and 182 have been approved, a 91 percent success rate. Statewide, about 80 percent of applications have been approved, according to data released by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

A 2016 study by researchers from Yale University showed that job seekers with no criminal record and those with a felony conviction and a CQE had almost an equal chance of being invited to interview for a position, while job seekers with a felony conviction and no CQE received about one-third as many invitations. Without a CQE, Naiman said, employers are “removing potentially the best candidates because of something that happened years ago.”

The CQE serves two primary roles:

  1. It gives a job-seeker the legal right to pursue a job or professional certification that otherwise would be off-limits to someone with a criminal record, and
  2. It grants employers immunity from negligent-hiring liability.

Naiman said it is “very rare” that an employer is sued for negligent-hiring, even if they hired someone with a criminal record who later misbehaved. Still, she said, she hears from plenty of employers who are afraid of such lawsuits. The CQE protects those employers, allowing them to evaluate a job-seeker based on his or her fitness for the job rather than a fear of being sued.

“A person with a criminal record is not a felon. They are not an ex-con. They are a person,” Naiman said. “And they might be the right person for your job.”