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Unlock Potential: Fair Access to Employment

Sophie O'Sullivan, about 3 years ago

This year marks the 6thanniversary of the Ban the Box campaign. Award-winning national charity Unlock co-founded this inclusive movement toward fair employment. As of May 2019, over 125 employers have signed up to Ban the Box, covering about 832,000 roles nationally.

Unlock's report 'A Question of Fairness' published in October 2018, shows that national employers are currently not doing enough to accelerate fair recruitment practice. Unlock surveyed 80 large, national employers across eight sectors: supermarkets, retail, hotels, food and drink, construction, car manufacturing, utilities and communications and found that three-quarters of national companies still ask about criminal records at application stage. Have a read of the report here.

There is a huge economic argument for getting ex-offenders into work. Ricoh UK estimates each person they recruit directly through Ban the Box and their work in prisons saves the company £390.10. Retention rates are often higher and corporate reputation is consequently enhanced amongst many other benefits.

Employers need to grasp the nettle and implement Ban the Box, not just because it's the right thing to do but because it will benefit their businesses and their communities. […] We want to work with these businesses, alongside Unlock, to support them to put robust, fair and inclusive practices into place.

-Jessica Rose, Ban the Box campaign manager at Business in the Community

One of the chief findings is that 80% of employers who asked about criminal records provided no guidance to applicants on when a conviction becomes spent. Further, none of the employers surveyed provided information to applicants on why they collect criminal record data, or for how long it will be retained. Under the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018, employers who fail to provide this information are likely to be in breach of the law and liable to financial penalties.

What can employers learn from these findings?

Unlock suggests that, right from the start, employers should be clear about what applicants should disclose when answering questions. For most jobs, there is no legal requirement to ask about criminal records. Not all criminal records will be relevant to every role. If official checks reveal information, businesses should initiate an open conversation with the prospective employee to understand the context and help them make a decision about the person's suitability.

These findings are unsurprising – employers are asking about criminal records at application stage as a way of deselecting applicants. We know this approach has a chilling effect on talented applicants with a criminal record, many of whom never apply because they think they don't stand a chance. In fact, evidence from employers who do recruit people with criminal records shows that they make reliable, hardworking and loyal employees. Employers who are open about their inclusive recruitment practices report a positive impact on their reputation.

- Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock

Despite the positive experiences of employers who actively recruit people with convictions, employing someone who has been to prison can be a daunting prospect for a business. Confusion about the perceived risk associated with recruiting ex-offenders is a concern for employers. Unlock provide advice, training and practical support to employers to help them make these decisions.

A number of organisations, such as those featured in our directory like Tempus Novo or Working Chance, can help manage the process. They provide support and guidance to both the employee and employer every step of the way. Additionally, we have featured many employers on our blog and in our short films who are leading examples in industry, including RAW Workshop, Elite Project Services, Virgin and Specsavers. These progressive businesses show how hiring individuals who have gone through the criminal justice system can work well.

If you want to adopt forward-thinking recruitment processes, where should you start?

There is an overwhelming amount of information online. Unlock are at hand to provide the right information and solid advice. They have a brilliant Recruit! website with comprehensive case studies and free practical guidance on criminal records.

As part of their drive to support employers and challenge discrimination, Unlock's Fair Access to Employment project (supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation) includes individual support for senior leaders and advice to HR teams.

You can find out more about the charity's support for employers here. You can also contact Unlock via our directory or on their website.

For those practitioners providing advice and support to people with convictions, there is a few spaces left for their next criminal record training on the 26thJune.