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nine to five
THE QUESTION

I just left my abusive husband. In our last interaction, we were both charged with DUI and assault. I am looking for employment and I was wondering how I can explain this in an interview. Am I obligated to disclose these charges to every company I apply to?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Samantha Lamb, partner, Jewitt McLuckie & Associates, Ottawa

The answer mainly depends on two factors: the type of job you are applying for and the province you live in. For example, in Ontario, some jobs ask for a type of police record check that only lists convictions, not charges; other jobs, particularly those working with children or the elderly, require a check that lists not only convictions and charges, but potentially other interactions with the police. Only the latter type would reveal to a potential employer that you have outstanding charges.

There is also no consistency in what human-rights codes say across Canada regarding what employers can ask. In Ontario, an employer can ask for record checks because its code protects against discrimination only for convictions for which pardons have been granted and some provincial offences. In some provinces, the code says it is discriminatory for employers to ask about any charges and offences, or only prohibits asking about convictions unrelated to the job being applied for. At least one province does not prohibit an employer from asking about any police involvement.

Because standards vary and police services can have different local practices as to what is disclosed on record checks, your best approach is to talk to a local employment lawyer. You don’t want to disclose anything you don’t have to, but if you do have to, you need to be honest because a lie on a job application, even if discovered much later, may give an employer grounds to terminate for cause.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Judit Lovas, career coach, Judit Lovas Coaching and Consulting, St. John’s

This is a sensitive topic to discuss with anyone, let alone with your future employer. Fortunately, having a criminal record is not synonymous with being unemployable, and the disclosing process can be more comfortable than many people would think. The key is preparation.

Even though you are not legally obligated to self-disclose any charges on your criminal record, it is better to be prepared with an answer when the hiring committee specifically asks about it. Lack of transparency with a potential employer may be more detrimental to your career than discussing previous charges against you.

There is no set of rules defining a “correct” way to disclose this information, however, there is some great advice in a career coach’s toolbox.

It is always important to know what exactly is stated on your criminal record to be able to provide a transparent and confident discussion about it. I always recommend my clients to be brief and factual when talking about the actual criminal charges.

But when it comes to the circumstances, it is better to put it in a way that a lesson was learned. The focus should always be on the positive aspects of the experience. For example, talk about what this experience has taught you, how it made you better equipped to meet certain challenges in the future, or how it has made you grow as a person and more resilient.

Employers are looking for employees who take responsibility and are accountable for their work. Admitting accountability and describing your expanded skillset could result in an increased chance of being hired for any position.

Good luck to anyone taking this brave step, but keep in mind that it is less overwhelming when you know that you are not alone in this.

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