Having received two convictions for common assault, Stuart always worried that potential employers would see him as a violent thug rather than an individual just caught up in a disagreement over a restaurant bill. However, when a fantastic job offer came along, he had to put his fears to one side and disclose.
Almost 15 years ago I was convicted of two counts of common assault following an altercation with a couple of waiters in a restaurant whilst I was having dinner with friends. At the end of the meal there was a bit of a disagreement over the bill; we thought we’d been charged too much. A couple of the waiters started to become quite aggressive and despite only trying to defend myself, I was arrested, charged and received a fine.
I’m the least violent person you’re ever likely to come across – I’ve always taken great pride in the fact that I can talk my way out of a situation rather than turn to violence. Although I’ve heard people say “It’s only a conviction for common assault, don’t worry about it”, I do. As far as I’m concerned it portrays me as somebody I’m not and I’ve always struggled to disclose it to an employer.
For several years after my conviction, I stayed in a job that I really hated; I was too worried about telling a new employer about my conviction so I just put up with it. Once my conviction was spent, I began applying for jobs which only required basic criminal record checks and managed to secure a role in customer services. I’ve loved the job and the people I work with but I suppose there comes a time when you start to feel as though you’re not being challenged enough and start to consider moving on.
The push to move jobs came about when I read something in the newspaper stating that the Civil Service were going to be removing the question on their application form which asked about criminal records. As my conviction was spent this didn’t really affect me too much but, out of curiosity, I went online and saw a customer service job advertised with HM Revenue and Customs. It sounded perfect and, full of enthusiasm, I completed the application form.
I knew my application had been good and was delighted to hear that I’d been invited for an interview. The interview was tougher than I thought it would be and 10 minutes after leaving the HMRC office I’d totally convinced myself that I didn’t stand a chance and had performed really badly. Fortunately, it hadn’t gone as badly as I’d thought and I was offered the job a week later. However, I wasn’t able to celebrate for too long. As I looked through the information pack I was sent by the HR department, I read that roles at HMRC were exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and I was asked to disclose unspent and spent cautions/convictions which were not eligible for filtering.
It was the last thing I’d expected and, as I had two charges of common assault, I knew that they wouldn’t be filtered and I’d need to disclose. I just needed to decide whether I wanted to disclose or should I keep quiet and turn the job offer down.
If the job had been with anybody else I would have walked away but let’s face it, a job with the Civil Service is pretty much a job for life. I was being offered a good salary, a marvellous pension and there were fantastic opportunities for promotion. If I turned the job down, I’d always wonder what might have happened if I’d disclosed.
Although I completed the form, it didn’t feel right just emailing it back to HR. I’d lived with the shame of my conviction for years and it was important to me that I was able to explain that my actions on that night did not reflect who I was. So I rang HR and arranged to go in and have a chat. I must have changed my mind 20 times or more about going along but, I kept thinking about the positives and pushed on.
I’m not going to say that the disclosure was fine. If you’ve ever done it you’ll know what I mean. Some times are better than others but it’s never a good experience. All I can say is that the lady I spoke to didn’t look too surprised and I certainly didn’t feel as though she were judging me in any way. She nodded in all the right places and asked me a couple of questions about how I felt at the time and how I felt now. I told her that at the time I had just been defending myself and hadn’t thought through the consequences of my actions. Since then however, I’ve had to live with the shame and embarrassment every day and, would certainly act differently if I were put in that situation again.
At the end of my disclosure the HR lady thanked me for being so honest even though she could tell it had been difficult for me to discuss. She confirmed that the conviction made no difference and the job offer stood.
Although I’ve not always followed my own advice, I’d tell anybody now that if you get a great job offer, then the 10 minutes of pain you go through when disclosing can definitely be worth it.
By Stuart (name changed to protect identity)