Supporting progression

Professional development can be an opportunity for people to feel challenged and satisfied in their career. Progression is also often associated with a higher earning potential, and the security and quality of life that can come with a higher salary. In a 2021 survey of employees from 133 companies, 59% cited lack of progression as a reason for leaving their previous job.

Some people with criminal records may face barriers in respect of progression in the workplace. Most often, this is a result of poor employer practice and stigma, not a reflection of someone’s ability to develop professionally. When this happens, workers and businesses are missing great opportunities for growth unnecessarily.

Why is this important?

What are the challenges for people with criminal records?

Progression in employment may be associated with new or higher levels of criminal record check. Progression can also involve additional responsibilities. For people with criminal records, this can be a deterrent to pursue promotion. This could be a result of:

  • Concern that an employer won’t consider them suitable for a more senior role due to their criminal record.
  • Fear that they will lose their existing job if unsuccessful for promotion due to a criminal record.
  • Concern that an employer might deduce ‘dishonesty’ for not having disclosed a criminal record earlier (even where they were not expected to).
  • Concern that new responsibilities may not be feasible with a criminal record. For example, where a more senior role involves international travel.
  • Progression could involve less job security. If an employee with a criminal record is worried about their chances on the labour market, they may prefer to stay put rather than risk having to job-hunt.

Contact to our helpline indicates that this can be a hidden problem; many of those who feel they can’t progress at work do not report their concerns. Employees either leave, or stay feeling stuck and silent. The stigma associated with a criminal record can mean that people do not feel empowered to ask for help when they face barriers to progression.

What can we do?

Offer Encouragement

Progression plans offer guidance for employees to identify how their career development can be supported in your organisation. For small organisations, where progression opportunities are limited, emphasis on skills development and training can be alternatives.

Establishing these systems will help you identify whether any staff members are not progressing as you might expect. It’s important to remember that this may be by choice, and therefore not a ‘problem’ to resolve. However, it may be indicative of internal barriers to professional development, including those relating to criminal records.

Give clear guidance

Review any existing progression plans for your employees and identify when and where a criminal record might be relevant, and where it won’t be. Employees may benefit from signposting to external sources of specialist criminal record advice (such as the Unlock or Nacro helplines).

Ensure that any policies or guides relating to criminal records are readily available internally. This allows existing staff to find out how you approach criminal records, without having to ask. If your external vacancies contain clear guidance about criminal records, ensure this is reflected in any internally-advertised vacancies. If any criminal record processes are different for external versus internal staff, make this clear. It’s important to highlight when criminal records information will not be requested as well as if/when it will.


Be prepared to receive disclosures from existing employees that you were not aware had criminal records. Do not assume this indicates dishonesty; said employee may either be in a post that did not require a criminal record check, or required a lower-level of criminal record check than the post they would like to progress to. It’s also possible that your organisation’s approach to criminal records has changed during their employment; you may not have requested criminal record information when they joined, even if you would do so now.

Reassure staff that criminal records (disclosed or not disclosed in accordance with your policies/the law) for more senior posts will not be used retrospectively to determine suitability for their existing role.

Employees may also have received a criminal record during their employment with you. Many organisations have policies that require employees notify them of any new criminal records, but many do not. If you do not have clear systems on this matter for existing staff, don’t assume someone intentionally hid this information.

You should also consider existing employment/ positive performance to be a mitigating factor in any criminal record risk assessments. If someone has worked for you for a period of time without concerns raised, this should be counted as evidence of reliability.

Peer roles or employability schemes

Some organisations offer roles specifically for people with criminal records or other kinds of lived experience. Someone recruited to a peer-delivery role may not want to continue to be identified as a person with lived experience as they move upwards in an organisation. Employees should be able to choose not to have their lived experience taken into account for a promotion, if they would not have to disclose it if applying externally.

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