Criminal record checks can be a mine field of conflicting information and potential pitfalls for employers.

If there’s one aspect of prospective employees that is most likely to make would-be employers think twice, it’s probably the criminal record check. It’s only natural to view people differently when you discover that they have a less than squeaky clean history, to rethink your opinion of that once perfect candidate.

However, while you can certainly let a criminal record change your opinion of someone, you can’t always let it change your decision to hire them. In fact, if you do, you might find yourself in legal trouble of your own, because if they can prove that they missed the opportunity because of something on their record, they may well have reason to claim discrimination.

The key to avoiding these kinds of issues is to discount any black marks that aren’t relevant to the position. Here are a few good questions to ask yourself before you decide if something is relevant or not.

How Old Is the Information?

If you discover during a criminal record check that your candidate had a run-in with the law once, a decade or more ago, and they’ve been absolutely model citizens since then, then the record in question might not be relevant to your hiring decision. There are other factors, but generally if the offence or charge is very old, and there haven’t been any since, you might want to write it off as the folly of youth and continue the hiring process as if the record didn’t exist.

How Serious Was the Offence or Punishment?

If the offence in question was a misdemeanor that resulted in a slap on the wrist or a fine, rather than something serious that resulted in a jail or prison sentence, then it might not be relevant to your hiring process, particularly if it’s also very old.

More serious charges or convictions, however, even if they are old, may still be relevant, if they might damage your company’s reputation if they were discovered. Use your discretion, or if there’s any doubt, consider consulting an HR or legal professional, to weigh your options.

It the Record Relevant to the Position?

There are certain instances where no matter how old, and no matter how minor the punishment may be, you will want to exclude the candidate. Examples would be a candidate any charges or convictions related to children who is applying for a position where they would be working with children, or someone with theft or fraud charges applying to work with money.

If the offence in question is directly related to the position that you’re hiring for, then you would almost certainly have grounds to eliminate the candidate.

Criminal record checks can be a minefield of conflicting information and potential pitfalls for employers. That’s when companies that run these kinds of checks regularly can help, simply by providing advice about which information is relevant and which might not be. If in doubt, speak to someone who knows, because when it comes to employees, what you do know (and act on) can certainly hurt you!

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