Are you collecting data you’re not aware of?

We recently worked with a large construction company who wanted to stop asking applicants about criminal records. The HR team and the department managers agreed on a new application form. However, they found that historic application forms containing criminal records questions kept being used for new vacancies. This left them with sensitive criminal records data they did not want, and had no clear purpose for. They decided to add a ‘version history’ box to the end of their most-used application forms, reminding everyone to check for the most up-to-date forms when advertising new vacancies.

In another example, a local council found that, having reviewed their criminal records process,  older documents (including an old policy on applicants with criminal records) were still available online. This led to some confusion for prospective applicants. They decided to publish a link to their current policy on their ‘work for us’ page, and in every new vacancy advert, so that prospective applicants were confident that they were reading the most up-to-date policy.

We recently conducted our own internal review, and discovered an out-of-date criminal record question. Unlock only asks about criminal records when it is necessary and proportionate for the role at hand. A number of our roles are open exclusively to people with a criminal record; by applying to one of these roles, an applicant confirms that they have a criminal record. There is no need for us to know more than this at the application stage. Yet, in an older version of one of our peer role application forms, we asked applicants to give us specific details of their criminal records. Our review found that this was no longer necessary, so we removed these questions. We also explained our approach to criminal records more clearly in the application form, so that what we weren’t asking was as explicit as what we were asking for.

These examples show that even with the best intentions, the fairest employers sometimes miss things. Implementing a review schedule is a useful way to make sure that your documents are consistent. Take a moment to review your forms, policies and other documents to check whether you are asking criminal record questions you don’t need to.

Top tips for reviewing your documents:

  • Try typing ‘criminal records’/ ‘ex-offenders’ and the name of your organisation into a search engine. This will show you what applicants will see if they do the same search. Sometimes, a search like this will give results that include old details (e.g. from vacancies you have posted in the past)
  • Send an organisation-wide email reminding your colleagues of which application form/policy is current, and asking them to check for older versions and replace them with the latest. This can help where people have saved versions to their personal files and use them without realising they are out of date.
  • Add dates to any application form templates so that everyone can easily check they are using the most up-to-date version for new vacancies
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