Dealing with criminal convictions – embedding a positive process of disclosure

Christopher Stacey, Co-Director, Unlock comments on the issues discussed in a recent Ban the Box webinar.

Quite rightly, the Ban the Box campaign is focused on a specific issue, that being the tick-box that appears on many job application forms,  frightening the life out of somebody who has a criminal record.

Many people with convictions see “the box” and immediately de-select themselves out of the job opportunity, usually because their experiences to date have been ones of rejection whenever they’ve ticked that dreaded box. The obvious result to employers is that you’re missing out on a huge pool of talent, which is why this issue is so important.

But ‘banning the box’ is only one part of the puzzle. What this simple concept allows organisations to do is have a much considered recruitment process that firstly focuses on finding the best person for the job, while also recognising that, as an organisation, you might still need to look at criminal convictions once you have a preferred candidate.

This is something that I know from experience.  Having worked with employers for many years, I know that some employers can see the benefit of this issue in principle, but when you begin to try and ‘implement’ this, it’s then that it can feel like it’s getting more complicated. What do we do if somebody discloses a conviction? Are we allowed to employ them? Who do we have to tell?

These are all genuine questions that you have to think about, and often this means looking in the round as to what your policy and process are.  If you don’t have either of these, you’ll need to seriously consider getting them.

It’s all about building on the principle of ‘banning the box’ and establishing something that works for your organisation. Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all model. As we heard from Interserve in the a recent Ban the Box webinar, they have developed a policy and process that’s unique to them. We have developed a policy at Unlock which we think sends the kind of message that we want to applicants to hear.

However, no matter how good your policy, if this isn’t embedded within your organisation, it probably won’t work. Policies are only as good as the people that use them. Senior managers, HR colleagues and recruiting managers in particular need to feel equipped to make positive decisions about employing somebody with a conviction. That’s one reason why we provide support to employers, because lots of recruiters have myths about criminal records.  They don’t understand what they can and can’t ask for, and don’t understand how to deal on an individual case-by-case basis with people with have convictions.

Ultimately, ‘banning the box’ could easily be meaningless to an organisation, even if they’ve signed up to it. It’s perfectly possible (and a genuine risk for the campaign) for the ‘banning of the box’ to end up simply delaying the rejection of applicants with convictions. In many organisations, this requires a cultural shift away from seeing convictions as a ‘negative’ part of the process, and rather looking at how you can deal with them in a positive, informed way. ‘Banning the box’ is a simple but effective first step on a journey which enables employers to see beyond the label of ‘criminal record’ and see the person for the fantastic employee that they could potentially become.

This blog was originally published on the 10th June 2014 at www.bitc.org.uk. The direct link [accessed 13th June 2014] is http://www.bitc.org.uk/blog/post/dealing-criminal-convictions-embedding-positive-process-disclosure

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Christopher Stacey