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Why do employers use criminal records? And why don’t they make their policy clearer?

I’ve just seen Unlock’s project aimed at employers. This looks at making the system fairer for people with convictions who are going through the recruitment process.

I think this is a great idea. When I was looking for work, it was so frustrating applying for jobs, having to tick the ‘yes’ box and then getting no reply. I didn’t know if this was because of my conviction or because the employer just felt that I didn’t fit the criteria for that role. However, I always had my suspicions that it was due to me ticking the ‘yes’ box on the criminal record question.

Well this led me to thinking –

Why do employers use criminal records? And why don’t they make their policy clearer?

Is it to assist them in sifting out applications.  If you tick the ‘yes’ box, is your application filed under “bin”. If this is the case, surely this must be an abuse of the system and should be stopped? However, getting an employer to admit to this would be difficult. It would be almost impossible to prove that they do this, because they will just say “You did not fit the role requirements” or “Your application was good, but I’m afraid other applicants fitted the role requirements more closely”.

Isn’t the idea of having a criminal record question for an employer to be aware that you have a conviction, and then if you are suitable for the role, your convictions can then be considered, ideally face to face? Sadly, many employers will look at your conviction on paper and make a judgement on the person you are based on that alone.

Sometimes I did get interviews, following Unlock’s advice to put “will discuss at interview” on the section of the application form asking about criminal records. However, there were two occasions when I raised it again at interview, the interviewer stopped the interview and said “We don’t employ people with unspent convictions”. That was it, interview over. If they’d put that in their application pack, I wouldn’t have applied for the job. I wouldn’t have wasted time in travelling to the interview when I knew there was no chance of success.  I wouldn’t have wasted the company’s time, they could have concentrated on the applications of the people they did consider to be eligible for the role.

I believe that employers should be open and honest in their recruitment especially when they ask the question about criminal records. It would be helpful if, in that section, they had a link to their policy regarding employing people with convictions. Then you could read it and see if it’s worth you applying based on your offence or the sentence you received. Ideally, their exclusions would be quite narrow, and instead look at each case on their merits. But if an employer simply doesn’t employ people with unspent convictions, then put that in the recruitment pack. As far as I know, it is not an unlawful statement. Employers should be open and honest about their need to know about a person’s criminal record. If they are ashamed of their recruitment policy, then they should change it.

I have now got a job after approximately 200 applications. How many of those I never had a chance of getting because of my convictions, I will never know. I suspect the majority of them. If they had been more upfront regarding their recruitment policy on employing people with convictions, then I suspect, I wouldn’t have applied for most of them, saving me many hours of my life.

By Robert (name changed to protect identity)


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