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Pre-Employment Screening
What impact do criminal record checks have on hiring and the economy?

(January 21, 2011) During the recession, mass layoffs left businesses and employees reeling. Now, as the Canadian and U.S. economies experience gradual recovery, an upswing in hiring is taking place. The talent pool once flooded with candidates is becoming shallow, forcing companies to bid on a dwindling resource of available staff.

Compounding the issue and impacting the economy overall is the barrier of criminal records. This issue is hitting the human resource sector like a ton of bricks and both businesses and potential candidates need to understand how to navigate the issue. The back log of employable candidates that have been halted for hire due to a criminal record is something that must be addressed. It's a delicate issue, but one that can and needs to be solved.

What impact do criminal record checks have on hiring and the economy? Employees with criminal records are nothing new.

According to the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), over 14 million Americans have criminal records.

The Bureau of Justice estimates that 1 in 15 Americans will serve time in prison at some point in their lives.

Over 3 million Canadians (10% of the population) have a record. Most of these records are for small offences, mistakes made years ago that people have tried to put behind them. They were able to land a job when record checks were not routine, but now, after being laid off, they find themselves in a hiring environment where criminal record checks are the norm.

Modern criminal record systems have made it quick and easy for employers to access information and many have adopted checks as part of their standard pre-employment screening practices, using companies like Reliability Screening. This means that hundreds of people that were once employed are now considered 'unemployable.'

Both candidates and business looking to hire suffer, as does the economy overall - jobs cannot be filled, projects completed and business cannot happen at the proper pace.

What can companies do to counter the situation?
While employers may be tempted in some cases to adopt a "more is better" approach to the collection of background information, that strategy should be tempered by the recognition that record checks will slow or in some cases prevent the hiring levels needed.

Although in many cases, a record check is appropriate, companies should look to design and implement policies that are carefully focused in scope, having regard to an objective assessment of the types of information reasonably required to properly evaluate candidates' suitability for particular jobs.

In many situations, taking a case-by-case approach to job applicants with criminal records is best. IBM Canada, for example, has adopted this policy.

"The operative phrase is to apply common sense and judgment to these situations," says spokesman Mike Quinn. "Obviously, a person who did something silly 25 years ago when he was still in high school would be looked at differently than somebody charged with bank robbery three years ago."

Businesses should consider:
  • Whether a person's criminal history is relevant to a prospective job.

  • The candidate's accomplishments in the years following a criminal conviction.

  • Would a pardon help to clear this candidate as a potential hire?

How do pardons help?

Pardons are granted in Canada, through a thorough process of evaluation by which a former offender is deemed 'pardoned' and their record erased. This is ideal for those with minor offences that have gone on to lead productive lives. Once a pardon is granted, criminal records are no long visible on record checks.

Since the inception of Pardons in 1970, 96% of those who received a pardon have not reoffended. In Canada, over 400,000 pardons have been issued since 1970, the majority of which for minor offences.

Pardons are a method that could be considered by HR managers and candidates as a way to counter the issue of criminal record checks preventing employment, in a manner that is safe, legal and would still uphold safety and business concerns.

Ainsley Muller, an expert on issues of criminal record checks and pardons from Express Pardons, can be contacted for more information.

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