It sounds as though you were convicted of welfare fraud? If this is true and you did not disclose the conviction to your law firm employers, their discovery of this would be good cause to terminate your employment. A new California law somewhat limits the use of conviction history when making job offers in some circumstances, but a conviction can still be disqualifying if the offense is related to the job. A financial fraud conviction relates to honesty, which is always a basic job requirement. Unfortunately, this conviction can make it very difficult to find employment, particularly in law, accounting, medical, or other settings where you would have access to sensitive and private information.
Follow me on Twitter @joeroselaw. I answer questions on Avvo to try to help get you pointed in the right direction. But, I am not your attorney. Beware, my answers here are general, limited, incomplete, and can never be as complete, thorough, or accurate as one I would give to a client after hearing all of the facts and details of my client's situation and applying the correct law. Also, I am admitted to practice law only in California and all of my answers are intended exclusively for the Golden State.
I agree with Mr. Rose and to answer your initial question, the employers would have to seek out the information in the form of a search or via a background check because the D.A. will not just call your employers and notify them of your conviction. That being said, a conviction is a matter of public record and would not be terribly difficult to locate, especially for an attorney. Good luck.
It isn't clear what happened regarding the criminal charge. Looks like more than just an investigation against you if you plead guilty. And if you plead guilty, it would be unusual for the case to then be dismissed but it's possible.
Regardless, it is quite possible the prosecutor's staff called your employers as part of the investigation. It's also possible the law firms conduct ongoing and routine checks of their employees, given the sensitive nature of legal work. You will probably never know what happened.
You mentioned background checks. There are different levels of background checks. Background checks can be superficial or can be detailed and intensive. It all depends on what the employer wants to pay for. Intensive background checks are more likely in certain kinds of jobs, and the areas investigated may vary with the type of job involved. Here is a brief overview:
In California, private and public sector employers and state licensing agencies most often use the California Live Scan (CLS) for a criminal background check. The CLS is inexpensive and takes only about 72 hours. You can request your own CLS check by providing your fingerprints and the $25 processing fee to the California Department of Justice, and following the instructions here: http://oag.ca.gov/fingerprints/security.
In all states, court records are a common source of information for background checks. These records are open to the public and anyone can gain access to them. Many court records are available on the Internet and can be found easily and without charge. If you have been a party in a lawsuit (plaintiff, defendant, appellant, respondent, complainant, etc.), that information will show up in this kind of background check.
If an employer conducts a criminal background check, it will probably reveal all adult arrests and convictions for misdemeanors or felonies. Other related information will show up, too, such as diversionary programs, pre-trial intervention, conditional discharges and more. In some states, part of this information can be removed from public records by a process called expungement. Not all criminal records can be expunged. In California, there is no option to expunge criminal records. You may be able to set aside the judgment per Penal Code section 1203.4 or perhaps seal the record per Penal Code section 851.8. These options should be discussed with an attorney in a confidential meeting.
Expect that anything easily available in the public records will show up in a background check. This includes bankruptcies, residential property ownership, names of officers of corporations, and more.
Also, a lot of information can by found by a simple Google search. Try searching for yourself on Google. Put your name in the search box within quotation marks. Do a separate search for each nickname you have. For example, if your name is Oliver Wendell Holmes, you might search for yourself under all these names:
"Oliver Wendell Holmes"
Finally, background checks may contain incorrect information. For example, many employers use a service to conduct background checks; some of these services operate outside the country and may have little incentive to ensure accurate results. Also, some services arrange information in a confusing or misleading manner. Plus, clerical or other errors interfere with accuracy. If an employer conducts a background search on you and finds inaccurate information, you will probably never know and never have the opportunity to correct it. You just won’t get the job. For this reason, you may want to purchase a good-quality background check on yourself to see what is out there and what you need to do to correct information at the source.
@MikaSpencer * * * twitter.com/MikaSpencer * * * PLEASE READ: All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. * * * Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. * * * No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. * * * Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis.