Would you feel comfortable working with an ex-offender?

Would you feel comfortable working with an ex-offender?

Would you feel comfortable working with an ex-offender? According to a recent survey by uCheck just over a third of the public would not. If my experience of this area is anything to go by this figure is likely to be an underestimate. There remains a high level of stigma attached to having a criminal record and I have seen clients literally hounded out of work when their convictions have become common knowledge on the shop floor.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many employers remain highly wary of employing ex-offenders and unemployment is endemic amongst those leaving prison. This is a major problem for society. Government figures show that ex-offenders are 34% less likely to re-offend when they are in work. Those who are excluded from work are more likely to fall back into offending due to economic necessity, mutually re-enforcing social networks and the sheer boredom of life on the dole.

It is also a colossal waste of talent. A staggering 11 million people in the UK have a criminal record. These can relate to custodial sentences for serious crimes but also to fines and cautions for relatively minor youthful indiscretions. If a large number of these people are being prevented from finding work in their chosen field it is an incredible waste of our country’s human and economic potential. So, it is currently a difficult procedure to find work for ex-offenders.

A current proposal to address this issue is ‘Ban the Box’ which is being promoted by the campaigning charity Unlock. There is currently no legal obligation on ex-offenders to disclose spent convictions to prospective employers. However, the majority of employers include a tick box on their job application forms for applicants to declare whether they have ever received a conviction. This creates a difficult dilemma for these applicants, as many employers are not keen on working with ex-offenders. Tick the box and it is likely to prejudice their application. Leave the box unticked and they are committing a dishonest omission at the very first stage of the employment relationship.  

Ban the Box does not say that employers should not ask the question at all (and clearly it is a legal requirement for employers to undertake detailed background checks where applicants will be working with children or vulnerable adults). What they do say is that the question should be asked at a later stage when the applicant has proved themselves to be the best candidate in a competitive process. By this point, employers are invested in their application and are far more likely to take a balanced view on working with an ex-offender. 

This is a worthy initiative on an overlooked aspect of workplace diversity. For more information visit Unlock’s excellent website www.unlock.org.uk

This blog was written by Mark Alaszewski, Solicitor at didlaw.