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GETTING THE PAST RIGHT

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WHAT should I do if an applicant’s criminal record check has revealed details of past cautions and/or convictions?

In most professions it may be clear that a particular applicant is unsuitable for the post they have applied for because of their past criminal record. For instance a paedophilia may not be allowed to come near children according to social work practice. However, it is important not to make these assumptions without gathering more accurate information.

In general, it will not be clear whether a person is suitable until questioned further. Therefore, it is important to carry out a risk assessment to inform your final recruitment decision. It is a common occurrence to have discrepancies between the information provided by the applicant and the information on their criminal record check.

Thus, as employers consider what information should you consider when determining whether an applicant with a criminal record is suitable for the post applied for? Have knowledge on how should you carry out a risk assessment? Do you have examples of criminal record risk assessment forms available? Sometimes some professions like social work consider it a duty to inform others in your organisation about an employee’s criminal record.


The relevant categories of offences in relation to the protection of children are generally considered to be serious, violent, sexual and drug-related, although the nature of the offence is not the only factor that ought to be considered. A person with a previous history of drug-related convictions who has clearly moved on from that period may be particularly well-suited to support others with substance misuse problems. They should not be discounted on the basis that they have drug-related convictions.

Possibly you had a ‘youthful indiscretion’ that led to a night in jail or something more serious occurred that led to prison time. Involvement with the criminal justice system can impact the opportunities for someone seeking a licence to pursue a career. In recognition of this challenge to eliminate the negative impact of upfront criminal background questions in employment applications, smooth transitions can look into developing interventions and take the issue to be a priority for many policymakers’ agendas.

Many occupational licencing boards and employers are witnessing increasing applications from persons with substance use-related offenses or other felonious offences, ensuring that questions of criminal background are not disappearing. This has become an ethical dilemma.


Are you barred from working in the behavioural health field if you have a criminal conviction? Not necessarily. Social work practice believes in personal change and growth, so licensing boards for these professions is often very understanding, but also realistic, and aware of their responsibility to focus on public protection, not the needs of an individual applicant or licensee. The reality of additional review and decision making about the past can be difficult to accept because the applicant believes she/he knows her/himself and fully expects that the past is in the past.

‘What occurred before will not occur again’. While that type of confidence is important, a case must be made that there will be no reoccurrence. There are some steps you can take to improve your opportunity to work in the field of your choice even if you have a criminal conviction.


The first step is to understand what your jurisdiction requires, such as the type of background check or disclosures of current or prior involvement with the criminal justice system.


The reality though, is that obtaining a licence is not a guarantee of employment. Each employer has a responsibility to assess the background of a potential employee and determine whether it is appropriate for its workplace. Under normal circumstances an employer could impose a higher standard than the state board, based on the type of crime committed or the work the licensee is expected to perform.


While the past cannot be erased, sometimes ‘disclosure’ can help improve your opportunity to obtain employment because of your honesty. Most employers are quick to assume that when an applicant has not declared a criminal record that later comes to light on a disclosure certificate it is an attempt to deceive the employer. If it is completely clear, from an early stage, that an appointment is likely to be subject to a basic, standard or enhanced disclosure check, applicants will be far less likely to conceal their records deliberately. If there has been a failure to disclose, it is important to establish why!

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