Top Tips for employers and people with convictions: disclosure

Author: | 21 Jun 2022

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve stolen a penny sweet or killed someone…we won’t take people with convictions.

Imagine hearing those words when you’ve done your time, moved on and are making a success of life. These words from a recruitment agent to a scholar, who had followed the disclosure process by the book, hurt. Though, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Our new Longford employability scheme helps past and present scholars turning a degree into a career. The support includes guidance on telling an employer about a past conviction.

For Longford Blog, ex-scholar Neil reflects on what he’s learnt from his experiences….

First things first, some employers handled my criminal declaration well. They offered me the opportunity to sit in front of them and tell my story. Others, including the recruitment agency who treat theft of a penny sweet as seriously as taking a life, and a justice charity (in theory champions of rehabilitation) both managed my disclosure badly.

So poorly, it dented my already fragile confidence. Dented, but thankfully, I have ultimately used the anger and feelings of rejection to good effect, fuelling my search for more enlightened employers. Happily, before I chart some less good experiences, I write this now working in an academic role for a university.

However, before securing this role, I fell foul of confusion over disclosure on several occasions. The Rehabilitation of Offenders (1974), amended in 2014, sets out when and if people need to tell a prospective employer about a previous offence (‘unspent’) and when they don’t need to, in order to properly move on in their lives. In one case, a new employer misunderstood the records checks. This meant that having passed a basic level of disclosure and with my feet under the table in a new team, I ended up being put through a late more detailed enhanced check.

As I knew my previous conviction would show up under an enhanced check, I told my line manager, naively thinking, in this case, my honesty would indicate a integrity and be met with respect. Within half an hour of my declaration, however, I was escorted from the building and told I couldn’t continue in the position.

I sat outside the office in my car, shaking, riddled with anxiety and in shock. After telling my family, in the interests of balance, I did receive a phone call from the organisation who apologised, aware of the hypocrisy; an organisation committed to providing rehabilitative opportunities and second chances. Through my own investigations, I understood the employer had not acted illegally fighting my case.

I had to move forward, using my anger, hurt and resentment as a driver to finish my studies.

Sadly, I was no stranger to discrimination in the workplace. Ten years previously, I’d also fallen foul of another confused recruitment process by a charity where the employer admitted potentially illegal behaviour.

Long story short, this was another retrospective investigation into my past after they had overlooked the box which I’d ticked to say I had a conviction. The offer of the job continued but the nature of my role changed overnight.

I had to wait to be deemed ‘safe’ enough to be integrated with everyone else in my team.

Fortunately, I was mature enough to understand fears about potential reputational damage (it was a centre for children and vulnerable adults) and was continually informed by my line manager of discussions within senior management as to whether my treatment was fair, justified and proportionate. Ultimately, neither employer nor employee really knew how best to navigate the situation. Through open and transparent dialogue, we made the best of a difficult situation and I saw my employment contract through.

Stigma and shame

However, my treatment re-enforced a sense of stigma, shame and sadness that I still carry internally. Maybe it’s an overreaction on my part but I am interested in other people’s thoughts at this treatment by a charity whose mantra, at least in principle, emphasised fairness and social justice.

Although these experiences hurt deeply, I knew I had the strength to channel the discrimination positively.  I finished my studies, recently finding employment at a local university; a good news story to finish this Blog with.

Good news

After an interview in January 2022 and a subsequent telephone conversation, I was offered a research position at a university. Of course, my initial thoughts turned to disclosure. Once I realised my conviction would show, I immediately phoned my potential line manager to offer a declaration whilst requesting an opportunity to provide more information to help their decision-making.

True, my experiences suggested an honest approach could backfire, but I really wanted this job. But, if an employer would let a 20-year-old conviction dictate their thinking, then I wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.

Yet again, I had to recount a very difficult, painful time in my life to strangers. However, at each stage of the process my, now current, line manager showed sensitivity and support, explaining what would happen in clear terms.

In short, I felt supported and reassured at every step of the process.

This positive experience has, to my mind, key ingredients of how a good recruitment process for people with convictions works. For example, the employer outlines the exact level of records check at the outset so the potential candidate understands if their conviction/s will show. As importantly, the person can then decide whether it’s worth the effort and potential heartache of applying.

In my experience, if the conviction will be revealed, it’s best to get in front of the employer, to highlight any mitigation and positive, subsequent progress. As past and present Longford Scholars, we are much more than what’s written about us.

A face- to- face meeting allows time to gather thoughts, references and written statements which are useful if you’re nervous talking about your offence. Over time some convictions disappear but it’s useful to practice this conversation.

Looking back, I’m better equipped to deal with rejection, prejudice or discrimination. I’ve developed the resilience and emotional armour to deal more confidently with a knockback in a socially acceptable manner. I am continually improving my job prospects with a confident, strengths-based approach.