It’s a sobering thought when you’re sat there, faced with three strangers you’ve never met: the panel at your job interview has more information about your criminal record than a jury would if you were on trial. And, in a capitalist economy where we all have to earn a living, employers are every bit as powerful an influence on your life as judges.

In a criminal trial, the jury is not allowed to know if you have a previous conviction. This is to make sure they aren’t prejudiced against you so that you get a fair trial. Research with mock juries has shown that jurors are likely to believe a defendant guilty if they know the defendant has been convicted a similar crime in the past. So it’s probable that interview panels are more likely to believe people with convictions might commit a crime while they’re employing them if they know about previous convictions. But, with one in five unemployed people having a criminal record, how are they supposed to get a fair interview if they’ve already had to disclose their convictions to the potential employer on their application form?

Some employers make sure that interview panels aren’t shown your disclosure so that they aren’t prejudiced. Many do not. And many small firms don’t have an HR dept., it’s just the boss, your application form, you and your record. So it’s impossible to remove prejudice. And that’s exactly why ‘Ban the Box’ action is crucial.

The practice of employers seeking a disclosure is very common, according to one survey carried out for British Industry in the Community (BITC) it’s a staggering 73%. In response, one year ago, BITC supported by Nacro, Unlock and others, launched the UK’s own Ban the Box campaign, #bantheboxuk.

The idea is to work with employers to get them to remove the criminal convictions question (‘the box’) from application forms and only ask about convictions at a later stage in the process – this varies depending on the employer, but many instead ask at interview.

So, imagine being in an interview in your forties and being quizzed about the worst and most stupid thing you did in your teens. Does that seem like a reasonable interview question to you? No? Well, that’s exactly the kind of situation people with convictions face every day.

Emotionally, it can be a truly gruelling process. Even the most well-meaning of employers, like charities who work with the disadvantaged, walk you back through the worst time in your life, get you to talk about what was going on for you at the time, assess your level of regret and remorse then thank you very much for your honesty and show you the door. If they don’t give you the job, there was absolutely no need for them to put you through that or for them to have that information. It’s an invasion of privacy of the highest order, and many people who’ve been through it never again seek work from employers who behave that way.

If employers ask about records on application, it means everyone who applies needs to make a disclosure, even though only one person – the successful candidate – ever really needs to. All the other applicants and interviewees are just members of the public with no legal obligation to disclose or undergo a DBS check. Their offending isn’t relevant to the employer because they are not employed, and are not going to be. So they should be able to exit the recruitment process with their privacy and dignity intact, shouldn’t they?

This is Part 1. More to follow….

You can read more about Ban the Box at http://www.bitc.org.uk/programmes/ban-box

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