Increasingly, companies are using criminal record checks in their hiring process before even talking to the applicant. The criminal record check industry has provided a readily available, popular, and inexpensive tool for pre-screening hopeful applicants. This use, now widespread, eliminates all job candidates with criminal records. People with criminal records are routinely being denied any opportunity to establish their job qualifications. Such a “blanket” approach is clearly flawed if not plain wrong; it seems not only unreasonable but also potentially illegal under civil rights laws.
Criminal background checks serve to determine the safety and security risk of candidates for employment or promotion. However, to assume that the existence of a criminal record accurately predicts such risk is illogical. Employers are using these checks as a way of determining character rather than qualification. The best qualified or even well-qualified individuals are being swept aside irrationally. These blanket exclusions provide no opportunity for employers to consider critical information, such as the nature and age of an offence plus its relationship to the job.
Another emerging aspect is the potential for covert discrimination – using criminal records to screen applicants serves as a facially neutral selection process that invites consideration and review. As such, the National Employment Law Project’s March 2011 report urges employers to reconsider their current hiring policies. An individualized assessment should take into account the nature and gravity of the offense(s), the time that has passed since the conviction and/or completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job held or sought. This approach would ensure that people with criminal records are not eliminated for youthful indiscretions, minor run-ins with the law, or more serious offenses from long ago.
Supporting this approach is the fact that a criminal record is difficult to interpret, making it a misleading tool to determine risk on the job. The BC Civil Liberties Association has raised concerns about employers using the PRIME (Police Records Information Management Environment) database for pre-employment checks. In the past, this database was considered a highly confidential tool for law enforcement. One of the problems inherent in using this database now for employment screening is that some information is being recorded as “negative contact,” a concept far too broad in scope for employers to base life-defining decisions upon. If it is going to be used increasingly for background checks, people will be demanding greater access to ensure information provided is accurate.
This is another example of what you don’t know can hurt you. How many people can tell you with 100% certainty what is in their file? How many of these hiring managers even know what their file says about them? If you are serious about your employment search or career advancement – do your best to have ALL the answers before you become excited about an application submission. Your past experiences, hard work, education and qualifications may be worth absolutely nothing to a potential employer if you set off a red flag.