The study found 60% of employers worried about re-offending and 66% of employers had concerns about the safety of existing staff members.
Kate Shoesmith, deputy chief executive of the REC, said employers should keep an open mind to candidates with a criminal record.
Ex-offenders and the workplace:
She said: “While employers may have concerns about re-offending, it is worth remembering that there are about 12 million people with criminal records in the UK, many of whom did not go to prison.”
Attitudes are changing according to research from Working Chance, an employment charity for women with convictions, which found 45% of employers would consider hiring a candidate with past convictions in 2022, up from 25% in 2010.
Despite this increase, there was still evidence of prejudice among employers.
Although just 15% of hiring managers said it was company policy not to hire someone with past convictions, 30% said they would automatically dismiss a candidate who disclosed such information.
Skills were less of an issue when hiring those with a criminal record, with just 32% expressing concerns that a candidate with prior convictions would lack up-to-date skills or experience due to time away from work.
Tapping into their skillset could prove an advantage, Shoesmith argued.
She added: “This would help lessen unemployment among people with a criminal record and help a UK economy that stands to lose up to £39 billion in GDP every year unless we deal with labour shortages.
“Opening recruitment up to people with a criminal record may lessen the time a role is vacant and reduce the work pressure on existing members of staff.
Neha Sawjani, impact director at ethical business network Business in the Community, said when recruiting anyone with a criminal record, HR must ensure they receive meaningful opportunities to upskill and receive training.
Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “When hiring someone with a criminal conviction, it is important to ensure they receive the same support and opportunities for training, development, and progression as all other employees to ensure they have the skills needed for the role, and can develop the skills needed to progress.
“Whilst employers may be cautious about the skills gaps that may be present due to time away from work, non-discriminatory recruitment based on the suitability for a role can be beneficial for employers, as it can allow them to reduce skills shortages and access a wider and untapped talent pool, that might otherwise go overlooked."
Sawjani said being open to hiring previous offenders is an important part of being a responsible employer.
She said: "Being open-minded towards hiring people with criminal convictions can unlock many benefits for an employer and can reduce the chance of them reoffending, which costs the UK taxpayer £18 billion a year.
“BITC's Ban the Box campaign asks employers to remove the criminal conviction tick box from the initial stages in the application process, so that they are not discriminating based on whether or not a person has a criminal record, but instead hiring based on who is most suited to the role.”
There was also a lack of understanding around whether candidates need to disclose their convictions based on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, with 40% of respondents confused about how this applies to their organisation.
Shoesmith added: “Employers need better information on how to hire and the workplace benefits of hiring people with convictions, which includes working with organisations that can advise them, provide tailored guidance and training for their staff.”
The REC interviewed 167 employers to ask about the barriers to their organisation hiring people with prior criminal convictions. The survey ran between 5 April and 3 May 2023.