Skip to main content

Tag: Employment bad practice-

I thought the last people to judge me would be the solicitors I worked for

Source: Adobe Stock

After working for a company for 25 years, Ian was distraught to learn that following changes to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Code of Conduct, he would have to disclose his 31 year old criminal record.

Until August of this year I was employed in the accounts department of a large law firm being responsible for several European offices. My employment began in the early 1990’s and without being too boastful, I had an exemplary work record.

However, my life prior to this was very different. In my early 20’s I was arrested for armed robbery and in 1988 received a prison sentence of 7.5 years. Like many people with convictions, finding a suitable career upon release was not easy but I was determined to put that life behind me and I never gave up searching for a career rather than just a job.

I managed to find a succession of jobs but nothing that had any long term prospects. However, despite a series of setbacks, I wouldn’t let anything stop me and I persisted with my search. In 1994 I secured a position in the accounts department of a law firm as an accounts assistant. Few companies asked about criminal records at that time and my employer was no different.

Over the years I progressed internally becoming assistant manager and then after 11 years I took the lead on a newly created role as billing coordinator. The past 14 years have seen me build on this and four years ago I became manager.

My life outside of the ‘office’ also grew. I met my wife in 1993 and we celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary this year with our two sons. We settled into an average, suburban life, something I never thought I would be able to enjoy.

After almost 25 years working for this company and building a new life with my wife and sons, I now find myself in a very difficult situation where I have become unemployed again. I had hoped that I would stay with the company until retirement but unfortunately a situation arose that has resulted in my employment being terminated.

Due to my employers desire to not only comply with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) but also with current and prospective client engagement letters, my company decided to carry out retrospective background checks on all employees. Before the check was even started I took the decision to disclose my conviction to one of the managing partners, who decided to raise it with both the SRA and an outside employment law specialist. Neither the SRA nor the legal advisors were able to offer any concrete guidance around whether my conviction prevented me from working in my finance role. Two months ago the SRA made the decision that my role was not eligible for this type of SRA approval and that I didn’t need to go through the process again in any future job.

The advice my employers received was discussed amongst a small number of the partners and, despite a faultless employment history and the fact that I’d worked for the company for approximately 25 years, the decision was made to terminate my employment.

I’m still in total shock over what’s happened and how I’ve been treated. The people that made the decision to terminate my employment were people I’d known for 25 years; I didn’t just think of them as my employers but also as friends. I was obviously nervous about disclosing my conviction to them and I knew that they’d probably be shocked but I didn’t think that it would result in my dismissal. I honestly thought that they’d use my 25 years of work experience to make a decision rather than something that happened 31 years ago to a very different person.

By Ian (name changed to protect identity)

Comment from Unlock

It’s extremely disappointing to hear that Ian’s employer’s took the decision to dismiss him, especially as the SRA have confirmed that his role was not covered by the SRA Standards and Regulations. However, it does evidence how once employers have seen details of somebody’s criminal record they can sometimes find it difficult not to act on it. It’s one of the reasons why we continue to campaign for changes to the current criminal record disclosure regime.

Ian has now accepted a settlement from his previous employers and is currently seeking a new role in a similar field.

Useful links

What’s the point of having a policy if an employer doesn’t bother to follow it?

Miski applied to a large, well-known employer and believed they would follow their published policy on recruiting people with criminal records. Here we look at how this employer approached asking, assessing and adhering to their own policy.


A couple of years ago I applied for a job at a large organisation famous for its inclusive values. Having unspent convictions for drugs-related offences, I was nervous about applying but the organisation’s online policy on recruiting people with criminal records was clear and seemed progressive. Although applicants were asked to disclose unspent convictions on their application, the policy said:

At interview, or in a separate discussion, the recruiting manager will ensure that an open and measured discussion takes place on the subject of any offences or other matter that might be relevant to the position.”

The job was a specialist role and I was well qualified so decided to apply, ticking the box for ‘unspent convictions’ and indicating that I’d discuss the details at interview. I expected to hear nothing back, so I was delighted to be invited to interview.

The interview was in two parts – a presentation, followed by a panel interview with the line manager, a director and three staff from other teams. The interview lasted for three hours in total and I travelled over 100 miles there at the employer’s expense. On arrival, an HR administrator filled out forms on my right to work and travel expenses, but at no stage was I asked about my criminal record. Naively, I thought maybe they’d decided it wasn’t relevant. The organisations people-centred approach seemed to be underlined when the senior manager explained that they aimed to let candidates know their decision within 48 hours. When I left I felt hopeful and optimistic; even if I didn’t get the job, it was good to know that some employers took an enlightened approach to applicants with criminal records. I’d heard such horror stories.

True to his word, the senior manager contacted me that evening and offered me the post. He explained that HR would be in touch to discuss salary and a start date, and that he was aware I had disclosed my conviction so there would be some additional paperwork to complete. The following day, I completed the paperwork sent by HR and then I waited.

After a week, I contacted HR and was told ‘don’t worry, we’re just doing checks.’ They didn’t say what checks. After another week, I wrote again and was told ‘no news’. A few days after that, a short email arrived with the title:

Application not progressed’

No reason was provided, and I asked several times for an explanation before receiving a response. They eventually admitted they’d done online searches. I knew what was there – the usual tabloid stuff, a link to a racist website and some local news. I never thought it would be part of a recruitment decision, especially by an organisation like this. But they were adamant:

…you may feel that material in the public domain does not contain all of the facts but we have to take into consideration how the media and public may respond to your appointment and that response will also be based on that information.”

This seemed at odds with the published policy: there had been no ‘open and measured discussion’ and the things they said they’d consider –

  • Whether the conviction is relevant to the position in question;
  • The seriousness of any offence;
  • The length of time since the offence occurred;
  • Whether the applicant has a pattern of offending behaviour;
  • Whether the applicant’s circumstances have changed since the offending behaviour, and
  • The circumstances surrounding the offence and explanation(s) offered

wasn’t mentioned at all. It seemed my criminal record was not a problem for the employer, but the fact that other people could find out about it was. I had been offered the job, and the policy was clear that:

Where a job offer has already been made, we will undertake to discuss any matter revealed with the person seeking the position before withdrawing a conditional offer of employment.”

I tried pointing this out, but was met with a wall of silence, eventually receiving a brief ‘Our decision is final. I do not intend to discuss this matter further.’

There is nothing to stop an employer discriminating against me because of an unspent conviction, but the fact they did so simply because I can be found online seems unfair. Especially when their brand is built on being inclusive. Can a big organisation really suffer reputational harm because it gave someone a second chance?

By Miski (name changed to protect identity)


Comment from Unlock

On the face of it, this employer had a reasonably fair approach to applicants with criminal records. Although asking on application forms is usually unnecessary, the employer does explain that applicants will have the chance for an open and measured discussion and that a conditional offer would not be withdrawn until after a discussion with the applicant. We advocate this approach in our self-disclosure guidance to employers. So what went wrong for Miski?


As our guidance on self-disclosure makes clear, applicants should only be asked about criminal records when it’s necessary and it will not usually be necessary on application. 125 companies have signed up to Ban the Box because they recognise that people with criminal records can enhance their business. For those employers, it means not asking until interview stage, or after an offer has been made. This doesn’t mean they won’t sometimes reject applicants because of a criminal record but it does mean they’ve given thought to how to deal with them fairly. Necessity will depend on the employer’s approach, but will generally be at interview or offer stage.

The employer should have avoided asking at application stage, but that made no material difference – Miski was offered an interview anyway. The problem arose when the employer failed to follow their disclosure policy and even introduced a new element – checking material in the public domain. Lots of employers do this, but they should make it clear to applicants if this is part of the recruitment process and be clear about how information is assessed and used. It may breach data protection principles (c) – as the employer acknowledges, information in the public domain may not contain all the facts so they cannot be certain it is accurate. Not every criminal case makes the news, and it is unlikely that any reports will contain all the facts. Using material in the public domain without informing applicants could also be a breach of the ‘fairness’ element of data protection principle (a).


Applicants may sometimes disclose criminal records that make them unsuitable, but employers should consider their policy and approach to avoid situations like Miski’s. Staff time was wasted and, ultimately, the best candidate on merit – Miski – was not employed, because of the perceived reputational risk. None of the factors in the policy were considered.


Like many organisations, the employer in this case had copied and pasted their policy form the DBS sample policy. While this means it’s legally compliant, using an off the shelf policy means an organisation has given limited thought to how it will work in practice. In Miski’s case, the policy wasn’t followed. More than that, new elements – checking of material in the public domain – were introduced. This suggests the employer had limited experience in recruiting people with convictions, and little regard for their own policies. If reputational harm is a factor in recruitment, employers should consider how best to manage disclosure and assessment. Post GDPR, they must also be clear about what information will be collected and why – use of information in the public domain could be considered excessive.


We want to make sure that our website is as helpful as possible.

Letting us know if you easily found what you were looking for or not enables us to continue to improve our service for you and others.

Was it easy to find what you were looking for?

Thank you for your feedback.

12 million people have criminal records in the UK. We need your help to help them.

Help support us now