Well well, what do we have here? I wrote an article about ‘ban-the-box’ in America for another site, and after last month’s post about name-blind applications I thought it would be appropriate to find out if the UK had its own version of ‘ban-the-box’.

Unsurprisingly, I did a quick google search and voilà — the UK has shamefully followed in the politically-correct footsteps of its American counterparts. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I’m more than a little disappointed.

So what is the box, and why should it be banned?

The box in question is the box you find on a generic application form that asks you about your criminal history. You tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depending on whether you’ve been naughty or not. Well, corporate HR departments (liberal airheads who wear suits) can’t seem to get enough of workplace regulations, particularly those concerning regimented diversity, so it’s no surprise that they take issue with an inquiry that could result in immediate bias towards a job candidate.

The offensive little box should be banned because refusing to hire a criminal makes you the most evil, cold-hearted purveyor of discrimination since, like…ever. Get with the times, traditionalists.

Gender and race equality are so last season when it comes to the whimsical obsessions of appease-or-die policymakers. Employers are now expected to augment the administratively-exhausting task of avoiding discrimination by giving people who have been in jail a fair trial.

The general stupidity of this latest draconian-disguised-as-humanitarian endeavour should be obvious.

First, the UK already has laws to prevent criminal record bias. It’s against the law for employers to refuse to hire someone because of spent convictions, and criminal record checks are carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) when it comes to vetting for jobs such as healthcare and working with children. At face value, it appears that ban-the-box is unnecessary, even for its most passionate supporters.

However, I would argue that:

  1. It is impossible to prove bias: if an employer doesn’t hire you because of spent convictions, how do you prove it? This is a double-edged sword, because the very ghostliness of bias means more diversity mandates while also rendering such mandates virtually useless. Current laws, and the addition of ban-the-box, do nothing but prove to superiors that your workplace is diversity-friendly. It looks nice on paper, but let’s face it: if an employer is truly prejudiced against someone, they’ll find a way to hide it in order to comply with workplace regulations. This doesn’t stop discrimination; it simply makes it more insidious.
  2. DBS checks are usually only carried out once a candidate is offered a job. It doesn’t prevent a person being asked about their criminal history on an application form. Hence, fans of ban-the-box point out how it targets discrimination from the very beginning of the application process. However: see point number 1.

Second, the ban-the-box initiative only stops an employer asking about criminal history during the initial application stage. On paper, it’s supposed to work in tandem with the other laws in place. But again, see point number 1.

See, that’s the real kicker: there is no implementation of ban-the-box that forces an employer to actually hire someone with a criminal history. The laws already in place already do that, and if an employer really takes issue with someone’s criminal history, they will come up with any excuse not to hire them.

Ban-the-box, it seems to me, achieves nothing more than a temporary warm, fuzzy feeling for a tiny proportion of candidates who never made it to interview before it was introduced; and now suddenly do. 80% of candidates who don’t have a criminal history don’t get a call-back, but for some reason the world is supposed to stop spinning for a handful of people who broke the law? What kind of logic is this?

Are there ex-offenders out there who honestly feel so entitled they think employers should completely ignore their probation/jail-time/conviction/court dates??????

Oh, come on — you must’ve been fed with an entire cutlery tray of silver spoons as a kid. Unfortunately, this is the real world where people known as adults have something known as common sense. Common sense is what allows the adults to say ‘hmm, maybe I shouldn’t do that naughty thing, it’s against the law.’ I know, seems complicated, doesn’t it?

The gist of the ban-the-box joke is this:

Someone with a criminal history applies for a job. Thanks to ban-the-box, they can pretend they were never naughty. Apart from their unfortunate ‘mistake’ of committing a crime, they are the perfect candidate for the job. They got their GCSEs at 5 years old, had a PhD by the time most of us had just hit puberty, and were teaching rocket science at Oxford before turning 18.

Back to the real world:

Someone with a criminal history applies for a job. Thanks to ban-the-box, they can pretend they were never naughty. They did a few naughty things, and they are an average candidate.

Best-case scenario: They get a call back and get ready for the interview stage. They make sure to iron the same suit they wore on the day of their court case.

Reality: They don’t make it to interview stage, because most candidates are average; regardless of whether or not they went to jail.

Interview stage with ban-the-box included:

The person with a criminal history answers questions in a generic way. Maybe they impress. Maybe they don’t. All the while, they’re sitting there and leaving something fundamentally important out of their CV: the fact that they burgled a house a few years back. Did I mention the job is retail? Did I mention it involves exchanging money? Oh, who cares…equality and all that.

Best-case scenario: The employer is really impressed and a few days later, the applicant receives a call offering them the job.

Reality: The employer is tired from interviewing ten people in a row. He or she thinks they might hire that last person they interviewed — the one in the nice suit. Oh, but that girl with the butterfly clip was good too…what was her name again? Actually, now come to think of it, what on earth was the one in the suit called?

Being offered a job with or without ban-the-box:

The employer calls you and offers you the job. You both arrange a suitable time for you to come in to sign your contract/find out your schedule/receive necessary training/receive a company policy booklet/be introduced to the appropriate staff. Every company does the new staff thing differently.

Up until this point, the employer has intentionally avoided asking anything about criminal history. This is because the stupid ban-the-box initiative means he or she has to waste precious time and money on hiring resources just so you, Mr. or Mrs. Criminal Past, gets to temporarily feel good about themselves.

Now that they’ve met the ridiculous government guidelines handed out by people who obviously keep a collection of stuffed bears and dolls on display, they do what they would’ve done much sooner without patronizing interference. They ask you the dreaded question, and you tell them the answer, and then they remember the other laws in the UK that mean they have to hire you. At this point, they either:

  1. Hire you because they’re forced to.


  1. Find a reason (that complies with workplace regulations) not to.

Unless, of course, by some miracle, you’ve overwhelmed them so much with your one-of-a-kind personality and immaculate CV that they’re willing to look past the fact that you assaulted someone/robbed someone/sold drugs/killed the neighbour’s dog.

If you find an employer like that, I recommend you work there until the ripe old age of retirement.

by Gillian Rixey
(Gillian is a PhD qualified freelance writer and scholar born in Ireland but currently residing in the United States.)

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