Sophie O'Sullivan, about 10 months ago
Within criminal justice settings, we are ambitious and open-minded. Many advocate that there is little to no risk of hiring ex-offenders. We think of the success of Timpson, Tideway and the astounding impact the Ban the Box campaign has had on many different industries, including the Civil Service and the Going Forward into Employment pilot . However, outside of these forward-thinking circles, there is a major gap of knowledge at an organisational level. For employers of all sizes, risk is a hot topic.
In this current climate, there is a culture of unnecessary fear and a real lack of awareness when it comes to considering risk within the workplace. As an employer, you may have the perception that you cannot hire an ex-offender in certain environments due to a lack of information and general misunderstanding. However, across the board, throughout many different sectors (for example even in high risk sectors like social care and security), it is possible to open up the recruitment process and make it inclusive to individuals from all backgrounds.
More often than not, this perceived risk is reputational, looking at the external and internal impacts of the company, and has little to do with the individual and their conviction. At the start of our campaign back in late 2016, we spoke about the effects of hiring ex-offenders and shifts in business culture. It is important to acknowledge that societal stereotypes and preconceptions are quickly demystified once employers meet an individual and start to see directly how their talent, skills and potential can fit into the business and existing team. Ex-offenders are so grateful for the opportunity to renter the workforce and the positive end result is the addition of a highly-motivated and diligent employee to the business.
The perceived risk of adverse public reception is another crucial concern for employers. However, we have found that 65% of employers who actively promote their employment of ex-offenders in the media note a positive effect on their corporate reputation.
At the moment, the collective emphasis is on the safety aspect of risk. No doubt, this is an important factor to consider, but such emphasis can be at the expense of fairness. The idea of fairness and equality is also vital to implement within your business in order to tackle organisational and cultural failures. This focus can help overcome attitudinal barriers towards those with convictions.
What can companies do to address risk in the workplace? It is the responsibility of the employer to conduct a fair risk assessment. This involves looking at the role, any potential risks in relation to the duties of the role in question and building this process around the prospective individual. For example, you might look at changes to certain stages in the recruitment process, revaluate when to ask about criminal convictions and if this information is applicable to the role itself and the overall performance output.
The weight of perceived risk has a great effect on decision-making. It is good to acknowledge the disadvantages, barriers and personal circumstances that led people to get their offence. This ensures that these individuals are not discriminated against and are treated fairly. It doesn't just stop at policy level. Within the business, all processes, codes of practice and the overall culture must be considered.
For employers looking for guidance on risk can be challenging and overwhelming. However, there are many really great, comprehensive resources online to assist businesses in supporting an applicant with a conviction. We have a dedicated 'knowledge' section on our website, which includes a handy factsheet on the employer's journey from following all the steps throughout the recruitment process and a disclosure guide. Nacro's Mind the Gap project has a brilliant sample risk assessment form .
Attending employer engagement events, workshops and forums is a great way of coming together with key stakeholders as it provides the opportunity to voice any concerns or fears to leading experts who are able to offer specialist, transparent advice and break down these assumptions and perceived risks.
We need to move away from the perception that we can't hire people in certain environments. To redefine cultural failings and to work on a case by case basis.
-Dominic Headley, founder of Dominic Headley & Associates (DHA)
The principal message moving forward is to adopt a fair, consistent approach.