A core aim of any criminal justice system must surely be to stop people re-offending. We know that getting people back into work helps with this. However, as Phil’s story shows, employers are not always so open to taking people on once they know that they have a criminal record, even if it’s now ‘spent’.
When we consider what is needed to help those with criminal convictions move forward in their lives, time and time again we hear that the most important factor is having a job. There are many advantages to the individual, not only the obvious financial stability but also helping the individual to feel a sense of belonging, taking responsibility, gaining a sense of purpose and the creation of social relationships. It’s so clear that being in employment is a no brainer as there are so many positive advantages for both the individual, the employer and society. Regrettably we so often come across employers who continue to display discrimination and prejudice. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was an attempt to remove some discrimination by employers and amendments made to the Act in 2014 reduced the rehabilitation periods after which certain convictions could be classified as spent which should have given a clear, positive message to employers.
Yet one has to wonder just how many employers are fully aware of their legal obligations and how many are still actively continuing to discriminate against those with convictions either unspent or spent and how committed the government is to the Act.
This hit home to me recently when after eight months of full time employment I was dismissed for gross misconduct. I was denied any notice or pay in lieu of notice and was escorted from the building without being able to return to my desk to say goodbye to my friends and colleagues! Most people would assume that I must have done something wrong to warrant such draconian action? But it would appear this is an all too common happening around the country. The reason given for my dismissal was that I:
Have been convicted of a criminal offence that in the Company’s opinion may affect their reputation or its relationship with its staff, service users or public, or otherwise affects the employer’s suitability to continue working for the company.”
At the time of my dismissal I had a spent conviction but I had declared it on my application form as, at the time of applying, it was unspent (it became spent one day before the job interview). I wasn’t asked about it either at interview or in the months that followed when I attended a further two interviews for promotion. I felt this was fair and correct as I’d only applied for jobs which I knew afforded protection under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. My interviews for promotion were successful and I was promoted due to my ability, exemplary work, time keeping and attitude. I was judged on present merit not on something from the past.
So you can imagine my horror when one morning without any warning I was summoned to a meeting room and found myself being questioned by the HR manager because they had ‘discovered’ the ticked box on my original application form. It would appear the earlier lack of interest in my conviction was not due to good practice as I’d first though but simply an oversight.
I guess this shouldn’t have come as a surprise as since receiving my conviction abroad six years previously, I’ve struggled to move forward with my life and in particular, to find my way back into employment. This hadn’t been due to a lack of motivation or effort on my part or even an unwillingness to resume a constructive place in society but rather the preconceived attitudes of the state, employers and organisations towards people with criminal convictions. Despite what is said by the government the reality on the ground is very different and what happened to me will never show on any statistics.
All my friends and family have told me how wrongly I’ve been treated so I wrote to the company’s Managing Director in protest and he agreed to meet me with the HR director so that I could appeal the decision. For me this was well within my capabilities but I can imagine many would be daunted by having to enter the Dragon’s Den for a second time, confronting two main board directors of a huge company employing about 3000 employers. I was 100% focused as clearly they’d not only breached the ROA but were also in breach of contract for not paying me in lieu of notice. Despite this it was a hard and stressful face to face fight just to achieve my basic entitlements under employment legislation. There was no apology for the appalling way the company had treated me nor for the stress I’d suffered or the financial problems that losing my income would cause me. I was viewed as a nuisance, wasting their time. They had no choice but to agree to pay me in lieu of notice and remove the gross misconduct allegation however the dismissal still stood! As I was within the first two years of employment I couldn’t go to a tribunal for unfair dismissal and indeed as such proceedings are often reported in the media would be a big deterrent for most people. I’m sure there are many who would not be prepared to take this risk.
I will move forward, disappointed but stronger for my experiences. I have become used to my life being a game of snakes and ladders but one has to wonder just how many knock backs can a person take.
By Phil (name changed to protect identity)
A comment from Unlock
Phil’s story sadly demonstrates the attitude of a lot of employers which is that despite offering him two promotions based on his exemplary work and attitude, they were unable to see beyond his criminal record once they became aware of it. Unlock see this on a regular basis and is why we work on fair access to employment, supporting and challenging employers in how they treat people with convictions.
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- Information – We have practical self-help information on spent and unspent convictions and employment law and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
- Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to challenging unfair/unlawful policies and practices on our online forum
- Policy work – Read about the work Unlock is doing on supporting and challenging employers in how they treat people with convictions