If you have a criminal record it is an issue that you will often have to deal with when applying for a new job. If it is any consolation you are not alone. Over 9.2 million people in the UK have a criminal record, out of a total population of just over 62 million – that’s more than 1 in 7.
If your offence is a minor one then enough time may have passed that you do not need to disclose it. However for more serious offences or for roles in some industries, it will always be something you need to address with an employer. This article is intended to help you deal with this situation.
Will an employer find out?
Almost everyone who applies for a job in the UK will be required to sign a statement providing details of any unspent criminal convictions. These are sentences where enough time has passed without a re-offence so that the person is considered rehabilitated. Notably, the key issue is the length of the sentence rather than the actual offence, although the two go hand in hand.
The majority of convictions are spent after five years. Prison sentence of up to six months become spent after seven years, while prison sentences of up to two and a half years are spent after ten years. Longer sentences however – over two and a half years – are never spent. For those under 18 the rehabilitation periods are generally halved.
If you wish to work with children, vulnerable adults or in professions such as law, health care, prison service, private security work or pharmacy a criminal records check will always be undertaken. Also included (perhaps ironically) are senior roles within banking and the financial services industry.
A criminal records check will disclose all cautions, reprimands, warnings and convictions; both spent and unspent. Therefore if you have any issues they will be disclosed.
In addition, if the job you are applying for is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 then you must also disclose all cautions and convictions, regardless of whether they are spent and unspent.
What happens if an employer finds out?
It will often depend on the nature of the role, the nature of the offence and the time period involved.
If the offence was minor or unrelated to the job then an employer may overlook the transgression. So, if you were cautioned for shoplifting ten years ago and are applying for a job as an office worker with a government department, an employer may be prepared to disregard it. However, if you assaulted someone within the previous year and are applying for a job caring for older people, then it will probably cause more issues.
If you have a criminal record it can be successfully overcome. I knew of a person who applied for a role to care for elderly people and had several convictions for theft. However, the employer took into account the fact that the offences had happened more than a decade previously and the fact that the candidate had been going through a very disruptive domestic situation, with no issues in the period since. Taking into account the circumstances the hiring manager was prepared to overlook the issues and hired the candidate.
Should I be upfront?
Almost every role you apply for will require you to disclose any convictions you have that are unspent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. If you do not and the employer finds out then you will almost certainly be dismissed immediately and potentially even prosecuted.
Therefore it is strongly advisable to describe all unspent convictions. But you should also provide the background to the situation, including any extenuating circumstances – to make your case for the offences to be overlooked. This way you can plead your case and you have a better chance of being heard.