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Blog | 13 March 2024

Rethinking risk: How can employers manage risk when hiring people with convictions?

At Working Chance, we talk to a lot of employers about hiring people with convictions. Hiring managers, HR professionals, businesses large and small. They quite often tell us that they would love to broaden their horizons and embrace more inclusive hiring, but they’re still just a bit worried that it’s a risk. And we understand it.

In this blog we take a look at risk and liability, to start putting some old myths and concerns to rest.

First of all, having a conviction is more common than you might think. Around 12.3 million people in England and Wales have a conviction - that’s one in four people, or roughly a quarter of people of working age. If you’ve got a blanket policy which rules out anybody with a criminal record, you’re shrinking your talent pool.

The number of employers who see advantages in hiring someone with a conviction has doubled in the last seven years. While attitudes are changing towards hiring people with convictions, many people are still overlooked because employers get caught up worrying about the risk.

Seeing the full person

Rethinking risk is the first step in reshaping your perspective on hiring individuals with convictions. When it comes to evaluating risk in the hiring process, context matters. A detailed conversation about disclosure (rather than just a tick in a box) provides helpful context for making well informed decisions and effectively mitigating potential risks.

“In terms of hiring the thing we say is yes, do all the risk assessments, absolutely do a DBS, but expect that DBS to come back with a whole lot of stuff on it. A clean DBS isn’t the thing that you’re looking for.”

Katy Savage, Director of Partnerships and Operations, Revolving Doors

Ask yourself questions like:

  • How old was the applicant at the time of the offence?
  • How long ago was the offence?
  • How have the applicant’s circumstances changed since then?
  • What positive activities have the applicant taken part in since that point?

All of these questions will help see the full picture of someone’s life, and you often see that someone’s positive attributes outweigh the risk of offending.

Understanding liability

Understanding your liability as an employer is a crucial aspect of the hiring process. Many employers express hesitancy in hiring people with convictions due to concerns about being liable if someone was to offend in the workplace. Let’s unpack this.

Firstly, research shows that employment is a major factor in preventing reoffending. Employment drastically reduces someone’s chances of reoffending because it offers not only an income but also an opportunity for a person with a criminal record to show what they’re good at and be valued in a professional setting.

What’s more, research shows that people with criminal records are no more likely to commit offences at work than those without a conviction.

While employers may be held liable for employees' actions (including criminal conduct during employment), this is true regardless of if the employee had a criminal record when they were recruited or not. Simple processes like a sensible assessment of a candidate's criminal record, coupled with well-documented decision-making, can mitigate liability.

For more information on employers' liability when hiring someone with a conviction, see Hiring With Conviction, page 11.

Relevance of conviction

Having a criminal record should not automatically exclude a candidate from a job. This is where a conviction’s relevance comes into play.

Above all else: if the conviction isn’t relevant to the role, there’s no reason to assume any increased risk, or that you can’t or shouldn’t hire that person.

You may consider candidate's criminal record in context and choose not to hire them for specific roles where their past conviction is related (eg. a fraud conviction and a finance role), but this shouldn’t exclude them from other job opportunities within the organisation.

When assessing candidates with criminal records avoid blanket offence exclusions and instead, ensure a fair and personalised approach. Focus on candidates’ skills and experience for the job, evaluate each applicant on a case-by-case basis, and tailor risk assessments to job roles and responsibilities.

For more information and guidance on assessing the relevance of a conviction to a job role see Hiring With Conviction, page 28.

“Hiring With Conviction has helped break some of the misconceptions and stigma that surrounds hiring people with convictions. We have been able to use it to educate and provide guidance to our managers, and we have implemented new policies for recruiting people with convictions.”

Jamie Carpenter, Talent Manager, Big Yellow Self Storage

Increasingly, employers are seeing the benefits of hiring people with convictions. Read Hiring With Conviction for more on how to embed a culture of seeing people with convictions for the value they add to your organisation, rather than a perceived risk.