Employers mustn't be afraid to recruit ex-offenders

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We must re-examine how we treat ex-offenders during recruitment processes, or risk missing out on talent.

Picture the following scenario. A fully-qualified, skilled and experienced social worker with exemplary references applies for a job with a local authority. During the recruitment process, she discloses in writing a previous conviction for fraud that occurred 10 years ago, which resulted in a 12-month community order. She is successful at interview and offered the job subject to a ‘satisfactory’ DBS check. She is allowed to start working before the DBS certificate is issued and so she gives notice to her previous employer.

When the certificate is presented to the new employer, she is dismissed for having an ‘unsatisfactory’ DBS check despite the certificate confirming the information she had already disclosed. The result is the applicant is now without a job, and the local authority has to re-advertise the role at considerable cost.

The above scenario is sadly all too common and is prevalent beyond just the local government and public sectors. Huge corporations often use recruitment agencies that may carry out DBS checks for roles which are not eligible, or have blanket exclusion policies that stipulate they will not consider anyone with unspent convictions, despite the fact the corporations have employment outcomes for ex-offenders. These issues not only present immense barriers to the ex-offender finding work, they may also impact upon the organisations’ profits.

As Jonathan Aitken said at the launch of Recruiting safely and fairly: a practical guide to employing ex-offenders, produced by Nacro with support from the CIPD and DBS, it serves our own interests to revisit how we treat ex-offenders. There are more than 10 million people in the UK with a criminal record, only a very small percentage of whom have been to prison or subject to supervision by probation services or community rehabilitation companies.

Despite this, many employers have concerns about employing people with criminal records. In fact 75% of employers say they would use the declaration of a criminal record to discriminate against the applicant in favour of a candidate with no convictions.

Research showed that employers wanted support and practical guidance with navigating the complex changes to legislation that impact upon the disclosure of criminal records, and managing and mitigating any potential risks. The Nacro guidance was created after consultation with the DBS and CIPD, in order to help businesses make informed decisions in relation to applicants or existing staff with criminal records.

A year ago, Nacro also launched a dedicated Employer Advice Service that provides organisations with free operational support as well as training and consultancy services, specifically to help them avoid the pitfalls surrounding this issue.

Nacro hopes the support it offers will encourage more employers to learn from the example set by organisations such as leading global law firm Freshfields, which not only bans the box but has also taken steps to provide opportunities for people with criminal records who have varied skills and experience – including those with serious convictions.

As global HR director of Freshfields Kevin Hogarth says: “With the right governance, we have developed an effective programme for our business that enables us to help some of the most disadvantaged people in our society. It’s changed our business for the better. It’s not as risky as you might believe; and there’s much to be gained from not always looking for the easiest solution.”

Dominic Headley is a legal officer at Nacro and the main contributor to the Recruiting safely and fairly: a practical guide to employing ex-offenders guidance

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