This document has been prepared by IASIO for employers who are considering hiring someone with a criminal record, to address any questions or concerns they may have. IASIO manages three criminal justice programmes, two of which are dedicated Employment Services that work with former offenders, both prisoners and probationers, supporting reintegration efforts, exploring future directions, and ultimately assisting with access to appropriate training, education and employment opportunities aligned to labour market trends. IASIO is a community based organisation funded primarily by the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service and employs 24 Training and Employment Officers (TEOs) nationwide in its Employment Services. By the end of 2019, over 26,000 people engaged with these services, leading to over 12,000 placements in training, education and employment (5,068 directly into employment and 7,249 placements into training or education leading to employment). In our experience, some of the most frequently asked questions by employers are:
- There are a large number of highly skilled and motivated former offenders looking for employment. By focusing on previous criminal conduct, society deprives itself of the opportunity to enlist the talents, skills and energies of these individuals in whose development it has a vested interest.
- At the very least, it is wasteful and inefficient for employers to discount such a significant pool of potential employees. Life expectancy has gone up and people now are living much longer. We should not deprive those who may have committed a crime as a teen or in their early twenties the opportunity of living fulfilling and purposeful lives. They should be afforded the ability to make a contribution to their family and community life by taking an active role in the workforce, thus reducing the role of state support.
- High quality skills’ training is now provided in all Irish prisons, informed by labour market demands.
- Employees who have a criminal record are often extremely appreciative of being given a second chance, and are usually committed, hardworking, and loyal workers.
- Some companies have found that the employment of ex-offenders has had a positive effect on their business leading to a highly motivated and dedicated workforce (IBEC).
- Diversity management: The benefits of a diverse workforce can be summarised as follows:
- Better staff morale
- Improved team effectiveness
- Recruitment and retention of skilled and dedicated staff and;
- A better understanding of the diverse needs of the population
- Corporate Social Responsibility: Being open to hiring suitably qualified candidates who have a criminal record provides an extremely valuable service to local communities.
- Fairness: Given that there is currently little provision in Irish law on the expungement of sentences (see Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions & Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 & Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018), most offences, regardless of the nature, severity or circumstances of the offence, remain on the ex-offender’s file for life, thus making it difficult for that person to obtain a job, particularly in situations where employers impose a blanket ban on recruiting people with a past conviction.
- Not to steal from my company, colleagues or customers?
- To be timely and regular in attending for work?
- To take instruction and supervision?
The employer will know more about the ex-offender’s background (and the ex-offender also knows the employer is aware) than perhaps 99% of his or her entire workforce. Of course, there is no guarantee, but in our experience the chances of an ex-offender who has been given a second chance breaking the employer’s trust is minimal.
The candidate should go through the same vetting process as any other candidate, including the checking of references, and therefore his/her track record on reliability, punctuality and attendance, as well as ability to take instruction and do the job can be verified.
A bias-free common sense approach is necessary when considering hiring a person with a criminal conviction. Risk assessment involves comparing the applicant’s skills, experience and criminal circumstances against the risk criteria connected to the job. Assessment should include consideration of:
- The nature of the work sought i.e. does it present any realistic risks to/by the candidate?
- The nature of the offence – would the offence create unacceptable risks for other employees or customers?
- When the offence occurred – the time that has passed since the offence and/or completion of sentence
- The circumstances involved – have circumstances changed since?
- The efforts the candidate has made to move away from criminal label
- Objective assessment of possible reactions of other employees, customers etc.
- Safeguards against personal prejudices that might cloud judgment and good practice (see question 6 below)
- Factors which might decrease the perceived risk, including those already in existence, such as the level of supervision provided.
- The Employer’s duties in law, particularly if job involves working with children or vulnerable adults (which applies to certain offences only)
- To encourage applicants to disclose convictions, an environment of trust must be created in which they understand how and why such information will be used.
- Employers should ensure that ex-offenders are included in all statements of equal opportunity and that questions relating to convictions state that a criminal record will be viewed in the context of the overall application.
- It is best practice to ask applicants about criminal convictions on a character inquiry form that is separate from the main application form. Ensure there is adequate space for the applicant to give details of any offences.
- It is important to remember that, depending on the offence, unless this question is raised as part of the application process or at interview, there is no obligation on the candidate to divulge a conviction.
- Employers can ask for details about any conviction, such as whether it was work-related, on an Inquiry Form. These details should be sealed in an envelope marked private and confidential and attached to the main application form.
- This should be opened only if an applicant is shortlisted. Otherwise, it should be returned unopened. If the person is hired, this confidential information should be stored separately from Personnel files.
- Access to criminal record information is on a need-to-know basis.
- Agree internal policy on access to disclosed information with senior management staff. Inform employee/applicant of this policy, including who in the company will know about the offence.
There is some debate about whether or not fellow staff members should be informed at the outset that a new employee is an ex-offender. The answer to this question is not so easily reached for the following reasons:
- It does support business transparency, but it could also lead to problems in the workplace, such as more pressure being put on the ex-offender to perform and closer scrutiny of their work.
- It could also isolate the ex-offender and cause a strained work environment and working relationships.
- On the other hand, if colleagues are not told at the start and it is found out by accident, there could be worse consequences: ex-offenders may even resign as they feel that the relationship with staff members has broken down. Therefore, management and staff communications policies should be examined to guide the decision on which approach would be most suitable.
- As stated in question 4 above, it is considered best practice to treat criminal record information on a strict need-to-know basis. However, it is conceivable that in some companies, particularly small companies with close-knit teams, transparency would be the more suitable policy. If this is the decision, then the applicant should be fully informed of this at interview stage or when making a job offer.
Companies should be wary of having standard company-wide bans on the recruitment of ex-offenders as it might exclude people who are highly skilled and motivated and who may have an acceptable level of risk attached to their employment. If you are considering taking applications from ex-offenders as part of your equal opportunities policy, it is important that the recruitment process is fair.
Employers should ensure that:
- Recruitment staff are trained in fair selection methods
- A statement of non-discrimination or equal opportunity is given to all applicants who are asked about criminal convictions.
- It is standard practice that all applications are dealt with on their merits.
- The recruitment process is the same for all candidates, whether it is by Application Form or CV.
- The completed Application Form or CV becomes part of the personnel file of those applicants accepted for employment.
And also consider that:
- The employer may investigate any portion of the requested information and may deny or later terminate the employment of anyone giving false or incomplete information.
- If the offence is directly connected to the work sought, the application can reasonably be denied.
- If the offence is not directly connected to the work sought, it is reasonable to consider hiring the person based on merit.
To encourage the successful transition of an ex-offender into employment:
- Consideration needs to be given to developing senior management support. Their support is crucial: if an initiative is supported from the top, it will also be supported at the bottom. If necessary, a strong business case can help engage their support (see question 1).
- The employee can and should be treated like any other, and certainly won’t want to be singled out for any special attention. However, it is important to be sensitive to the history of the employee, for example if he/she hasn’t worked in a while. A little patience will be beneficial for everyone.
- Many ex-offenders suffer from low self-esteem, and feel everyone is thinking the worst about them. It’s important to treat the new employee just like everyone else, to create a friendly and positive environment, and to provide clear instruction and expectations from the start of the employment.
- It might be a good idea to assign a ‘buddy’ to the newly-hired candidate for the first few days to help them learn the ropes and to ensure that they are not overwhelmed or isolated.
For the job-seeking individual, the disclosure of a criminal record can often adversely affect results. Receiving negative responses when explaining the gap in employment history and constant rejection can cause low self-esteem, low morale, depression and, in some cases, recidivism. As a result, many ex-offenders do not disclose their conviction unless asked directly during interview or on an application form.
The discovery after-the-fact that an employee is an ex-offender can cause anxiety, nervousness and concern amongst employers. This can lead to rash decision making upon discovery, no matter what the offence, or its relation to the job. However, it is important to keep a sense of perspective. If employees are performing their duties as required and to the necessary standard, there are no grounds for dismissing them purely on the basis of a prior criminal conviction. If there are problems with the employee’s performance, attendance, or conduct these should be dealt with through disciplinary procedures in a similar manner to any other employee.
IASIO (IRISH ASSOCIATION FOR SOCIAL INCLUSION OPPORTUNITIES)
IASIO – the Irish Association for Social Inclusion Opportunities—is a national organisation formed in January 2012 with a specific focus on alternatives to both offending and re-imprisonment. This is achieved through the provision of direct services to offenders both in the community and in all Irish prisons. The twin pillars of IASIO services are: supported stability leading to change, and opportunity to do so.
IASIO manage 3 criminal justice services that offer a comprehensive Guidance, Resettlement and Placement Service to people with criminal convictions which include professional psychometric assessments to ensure meaningful & appropriate guidance and placement for those referred. The ethos of IASIO is founded on the premise that people do desist from criminal activity, that equal opportunity applies to all, and in the knowledge that access to education, training and employment opportunities are central to bringing about positive change not just for the person but for local communities too.
Creating and maintaining the vital link between employers and former offenders is critical for their transition back into society. Having a stable working environment that provides motivation, personal satisfaction and financial rewards has a major and pivotal role to play in the rehabilitation of former offenders. IASIO’s Linkage and GATE Services assigns a Training and Employment Officer to work with each candidate referred by the Probation Service (Linkage) and the Irish Prison Service (GATE), who will carry out an assessment and then work closely with the candidate to explore future direction and prepare for training and/or employment placements.
For the employer, working with IASIO means:
- Recruitment needs are met at no cost to the employer
- Access to information on available employment supports such as substantial PRSI Exemptions (see also JobPlus on www.welfare.ie or www.revenue.ie)
- Full support for both the employer and the employee from the network of highly-qualified and experienced Training and Employment Officers around the country and within the prisons.
- A reference from the Training & Employment Officer of his/her experience of working with the individual prior to any job offer, on request.
- A more meaningful Equal Opportunities Policy.
- PR and media opportunities if desired, and networking opportunities with other companies hiring Linkage or GATE candidates.
- If interested, a tour of your nearest prison can be provided, with the Governor’s permission, by the local TEO, including the training workshops, in order to gauge the level of expertise and accredited courses provided in Irish prisons. Note however that not all IASIO clients serve a prison sentence; many are placed on a Probation or Community Service Order.
You can expect that an IASIO candidate will have been working for some time with a Training and Employment Officer in preparation for a return to work, including the following types of intervention and development:
- A holistic guidance process which allows candidates to identify their true aspirations and abilities
- Soft skills development such as meeting commitments (appointments and action items), punctuality, communications skills, how to handle difficult questions about one’s past when asked by colleagues, taking instruction, and many others
- Creation of a career plan, taking responsibility for and being pro-active in positive self-development and promotion
- Psychometric testing of applicants that matches the candidate to the right job and working environment
Through several months of progressive work with the Training & Employment Officer, the candidate has the opportunity to demonstrate that he/she is motivated, job ready, and eager to begin a new life. TEOs will not recommend a candidate for employment if they are not confident that s/he is ready, willing and able, and that the employment is appropriate.
An experienced team of 22 professional Training and Employment Officers in probation offices around the country and in prisons provides support to both the employer and the employee before and during the placement.