Why using a “sample policy on recruiting ex-offenders” is bad for business

“How do you deal with applicants with a criminal record?”

That’s a common question we ask of employers. The answer varies; sometimes, they’re quite proactive; other times, they don’t really know. Often, we’re pointed to their ‘policy’. Great, you might think.

Unfortunately, a significant proportion of employers with a policy in place have simply copied the Disclosure and Barring Service ‘s (DBS) sample policy and put their name at the top of it. An online search of ‘policy on the recruitment of ex-offenders’ throws up countless policies from employers – all carbon copies of the DBS template.

What’s wrong with that, you might ask?

Put simply, it’s not designed for your business. A sample policy, by definition is designed as ‘one size fits all’.

That might sound like a good thing – it makes it easier to make sure everybody is broadly saying the same. The drawback is that there’s less thought and effort that goes into if, or how, the policy actually reflects the process for your business.

In reality, that can mean practice not reflecting the policy, with different parts of the business operating differently, resulting in inconsistencies. This can mean missing out on talented candidates who are excluded at an early stage, or data protection breaches where recruiters or managers ask questions they are not legally entitled to.

It can also give a false impression to applicants, which might result in appeals and reputational issues later.  Let’s look at the sample policy in more detail to see how that might happen.

The sample policy indicates that the employer will

select all candidates for interview based on their skills, qualifications and experience

This is something we support as a principle of fair chance recruitment, but it’s not something that most employers actually do. Selecting candidates based on skills, qualifications and experience suggests that a criminal record is not relevant. In which case, why ask on application?

For those employers don’t use this information at the application stage, they should remove this question and sign up to the ban the box campaign.

The sample policy goes onto say that the employer will

 discuss any matter revealed on a DBS certificate with the individual

Again, this is something we support as a principle of fair chance recruitment – it’s good practice.  But it’s not that common. Most employers either ask on application and shortlist accordingly, or ask after offer and make a decision based on a paper disclosure. It’s not unusual to see “clean DBS required” referred to in job adverts, or even an offer withdrawn where a DBS contains any disclosure.

Finally, the language used in the policy – in the title itself – sends a message. A ‘policy on the recruitment of ex-offenders’ (our emphasis) – language is really important, and the words you use in your policy will give a strong impression of how your approach your process. The label “ex-offender” is  stigmatising and fails to recognise the breadth of people that have a criminal record, including those with single minor offences from decades ago.

For these reasons (and others), we’ve decided to go about things differently.

We encourage all employers to carefully consider whether asking about criminal records is necessary. It may seem surprising but in many countries it is unusual, even unlawful, to ask about criminal records. In the UK, some industries (for example construction) have more or less stopped asking.

For employers that do ask, we have published guidance on developing a policy for applicants with a criminal record. It’s designed to help you to establish a clear, accessible external policy that explains your approach towards applicants with a criminal record.

The guidance covers why you should have a policy. It also provides details of the areas you should cover in a policy. It’s part of our practical guidance on developing your approach to criminal records.

Crucially, this guidance doesn’t include a template policy. Although there’s guidance about the areas to cover, and we provide suggestions for how you might go about each area, it’s important that you look at this from the perspective of your organisation, and develop policy that reflects thinking your values. Only then can you recruit from the widest pool of talent and recruit the best candidates to your business.

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