There is a practice where I live making it illegal to ask a job applicant if they have a criminal conviction. It is legal however to state in a job posting and at the interview that a criminal record check is required prior to being offered employment. If a clean criminal record check doesn’t materialize, the person is often advised they will not be hired.
What we have here creates a conundrum; society wants people to work and earn their living. People with criminal convictions are willing to work but are being denied employment. As no one will hire them, they turn to social assistance at best, or crime at the worst out of a way to survive; society supporting them either through social assistance or the penal system should they be caught.
The convictions people carry range from those committed very recently to those committed decades ago. The crimes range from murder at the extreme to perhaps plea bargaining to avoid going through a trial and facing a stiffer penalty where they may have eventually been found innocent. Records stick unless they are pardoned.
Now not all people with criminal records look like hardened criminals and some folks with clean criminal records look like the criminals we imagine! So we have in our society then a number of people who are unemployed, qualified to do advertised work but who employers will not consider. The reason most employers give for not hiring someone with a criminal conviction has to do with insurance costs and liability should the person commit an offence.
There are indeed situations where the majority of us would be in agreement when it comes to denying certain offenders employment. We would not want a pedophile working at a childcare centre, a sex offender working at a woman’s shelter, nor a convicted thief working in people’s homes as a Personal Support Worker. In other words, we would not want to have a person placed in an environment where the temptation or possibility of offending again would put innocent people in harm’s way.
However, what do we do with the vast majority of people who have committed an offence (not excusing the conviction), who are capable of working with a low likelihood of re-offending in the kind of employment they are seeking? So for example a mom made a bad snap decision 10 years ago and stood between the police and her teen, trying to reason out why the police are in her home accusing her teen of something but can’t process what is happening that quickly and as a result has a record for obstructing police. Does that conviction 10 years ago mean she can’t be a Cashier at a grocery store? A Receptionist? What about a Call Centre Operator?
Now suppose you had an able-bodied, unemployed man in front of you with great people skills, appropriately dressed, well-educated and the qualifications to work as a Machinist or an Investment Broker. His 20-year-old offence when he was 19 years old was defending a girl he was with and in so doing, has a conviction for assault against her attacker.
Understand I’m not trying to minimize the convictions themselves. I am raising the discussion however on whether some with convictions should be able to compete on a level field where their convictions are not related to the jobs they are applying for.
There are some employers out there who want to hire people with criminal records. They short-list them for interviews, become their first choice after one or two interviews, and then offer them jobs – pending a clean criminal reference check. However, when that check comes back, they withdraw the offer. The point is that the person was objectively speaking the best person who applied.
The fear of being sued by someone who would say, “You knew this person had a criminal record and you hired them anyhow. I’m going to sue the pants off you! We had a right to know! What were you thinking?” is just too great. One lawsuit and the company could be financially crippled, out of business altogether – and their reputation forever damaged.
IF they were hired, is it ethical to tell all clients, co-workers, stakeholders and customers, that a person with a criminal conviction has been hired? Would you treat your co-worker differently if you knew they had a conviction, even when their conviction has no direct relation to the job at hand.
So what is the logical reality of not employing people with such convictions – leaving aside the most extreme crimes and convictions. They still need to eat and be housed, so they may turn to social assistance; the safety net. There they will undoubtedly be told it is mandatory as a condition of receiving assistance to….job search. Take a course, attend a workshop – all designed to make them more attractive to employers; which the courses do.
A pardon is possible, but it takes $700 – $1000 and 5 years to get that locally. In contrast, 5 years of social assistance could run about $40,000.00. By the time 5 years of unemployed goes by the person is also embittered, skills, education, experience and references out of date.
I’m not proposing THE answer, just opening up the discussion. Is this the way we intended the system to work? How do we protect our businesses, safeguard our clients and customers, yet still provide opportunities for people with convictions to become financially independent, responsibly employed taxpaying citizens? What do you think?