Skip to main content

Ban the Box Campaign for Fairness in Recruitment

Ban the Box Campaign for Fairness in Recruitment
Click to enlarge
Marketing Consultant - babelmonkey

Ex-offenders often find it difficult to make it past the application form if they have to declare criminal convictions at an early stage. As finding employment is a key element in preventing reoffending, this potentially builds a legacy of repeat offending as they struggle to become part of accepted society. Now, the Ban the Box campaign, originally started as a movement in the USA, is making itself heard in the UK as the Prison's Minister encourages employers to meet with applicants before asking them to reveal any criminal convictions, in the interests of giving them a fair opportunity without prior judgement.

Unconscious bias has been a hot topic when it comes to recruitment and many measures have been tried to reduce the opportunity for it to creep in. Gone are the days of adding a photo to a CV; now, the industry moved into removing elements that could cause bias such as names and date of birth. Whilst these elements have subsequently made a reappearance, in the interests of fairness, diversity and inclusion, a new movement is receiving more attention.

Ban the Box is a campaign that originated in Hawaii in the late 1990s with the mission to enable ex-offenders to make a first impression with a prospective employer before being required to disclose any criminal convictions. Now, Lucy Frazer MP, the Prison’s Minister is encouraging more companies to sign up for the campaign here in the UK.

Typically, an application form will ask the question: “Do you have any criminal convictions?” followed by two tick boxes, one for yes and one for no. Studies have found, the majority of employers will immediately reject any application where the candidate has ticked the ‘yes’ box, without looking at the qualifications and experience, or asking about the circumstances of a crime. This bias has an obvious consequence: it makes it difficult for ex-offenders to find gainful employment and ultimately, may send them back into a life of crime as the only avenue open to them to provide for themselves and their families. Additionally, the employer may be missing out on an otherwise effective employee.

As part of the drive to make it easier for ex-offenders to find a route into employment, a Local Partnership Agreement was signed between the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service. The agreement, the first of its kind, aims to provide a joined-up approach to preparing offenders for release and supporting businesses to create opportunities for them to find sustainable jobs, reducing the chances of them reoffending. With reoffending rates soaring and costing the taxpayer around £18 billion per year, this seems a worthwhile enterprise.

“Employers are often reluctant to take on someone with a criminal record for a variety of reasons, but they effectively boil down to two: either, they must be a ‘bad’ untrustworthy person or they fear they will commit a crime against them or the business. People can be convicted for all sorts of serious-sounding crimes that have turned out to be less serious than suggested. Also, people make mistakes, make poor choices, or end up on the wrong side of the law. Having worked with ex-offenders, I’ve heard this scenario on many occasions . Obviously, it depends on the role they will be undertaking, but it doesn't necessarily mean your business will be at risk.” ~ Kimberly Bradshaw

With more than twenty-five years of experience within the HR and recruitment sector, ASL’s Managing Director Jason Perry has heard many stories.

“We had one candidate who had an argument with his sister. She moved to hit him, and he pushed her away, whereupon she stumbled backwards, tripped over a piece of garden furniture, and banged her head on the path. He was charged with "Assault occasioning actual bodily harm" under Section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act which carries a maximum custodial sentence of five years. He was lucky and the judge threw it out but, had it gone the other way, he would have had that conviction following him for years. Would you employ someone with a conviction for Assault? If you had have known the circumstances, you might have made a different decision especially if you had met him first and had the opportunity to get to know him a little.” ~ Jason Perry, F-CIPD & Managing Director at ASL Recruitment

First impressions count and Hiring Managers and those for responsibility for recruiting are usually quick to gauge an applicant. The campaign is designed to allow an ex-offender to present themselves for that initial assessment without the stigma of a criminal conviction. They can then be assessed under the same criteria as all the other applicants before being asked to reveal convictions. There are some clear areas where, on disclosure of a criminal offence, the type of employment may not be suitable: an applicant with a conviction for fraud might not be a suitable choice as a company accountant, however, if they were applying for a different role with no access to finances, they might still be an appropriate candidate. The campaign is gathering momentum, with over 150 companies in the UK signed up including Boots, Co-Op, Age UK Shropshire Telford & Wrekin, Allan & Overy (Legal) and PNB Paribas (Financial Services).

“We discussed this topic in our Weekly Employer’s HR Conference Call last Wednesday and it provoked a lively debate. It was interesting to hear some of the attendees who were initially quite reluctant to consider ex-offenders, reconsider their opinion. That’s what this campaign is asking for – to create fair opportunities for ex-offenders to compete for jobs and in so doing, opening up a wider talent pool for employers. Ultimately, it’s up to each employer to make the decision that’s right for them I am delighted to provide a forum where such discussions can take place.”

The Weekly Employer’s HR Conference Call happens on Wednesdays at 11 am for one hour. If you would like to come along, email [email protected] for your invitation.

ASL Recruitment was established in 1999 and has been serving Hastings and the surrounding area ever since placing temporary and permanent roles across a variety of sectors including Industrial and Manufacturing, Legal, Finance, Marketing, Technology and Office Support, from junior up to board level. Our co-founder and Managing Director, Jason Perry is an HR specialist and a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. For further information on our recruitment or consultancy services, email  [email protected] or call us on 01424 452999.