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The Question

Is a past criminal conviction and time served always an insurmountable obstacle to working in the public sector?

I do not reveal my regrettable past in interviews and have lost great jobs that I was very good at, formally trained for and enjoyed, when it was discovered. My crimes took place decades ago and, although they were non-violent, they were dishonest and greedy.

Is there a way to be upfront about my tarnished background in an interview and still get hired if I am otherwise the best candidate? If so, how?

The First Answer

Greg Conner, vice-president, people and culture, BC Transit, Victoria, B.C.

My heart goes out to you. Having extensive experience in the public sector dealing with applicants who have had criminal records, my policy has always been to look at the severity of the offence(s), the time that has passed and, most importantly, what the person has done since their offence to demonstrate they have rehabilitated themselves. Really, who among us hasn’t needed a second chance at some point?

At BC Transit, disclosing criminal records is part of our application process. But if you have not had an opportunity to disclose your past during the application stage, I would recommend doing so during your interview. Doing this in person allows you the opportunity to explain yourself instead of getting screened out. Demonstrate to the hiring committee that the “dishonest and greedy” actions of the long-ago past are not the you of the present, and elaborate on the reasons why that is so.

Also, you should immediately start the process of applying for a pardon, as from your question it appears you meet the criteria. It is a 12- to 24-month process, so get started now. Once approved, your criminal record will be kept separate and will not be disclosed for a criminal record check inquiry from a prospective employer. It is at that point you no longer have to bring this part of your past up during the hiring process. Having said that, the only time a pardoned offence would be disclosed would be if it were a sexual offence and the person were applying to work with children or individuals from other vulnerable groups.

I wish you luck in finding the right job, as the public sector always needs well-trained people who are good at their job and enjoy what they are doing.

The Second Answer

Alia Besharat, associate lawyer, Monkhouse Law, Toronto, Ont.

Background checks are a normal requirement when applying for a government position as these roles often carry a great sense of responsibility and authority. You should always be upfront and honest about a criminal conviction during an interview as the consequences are worse if you attempt to hide it. On that same note, you also cannot be discriminated against because of a record of offences.

The main consideration is whether the offence would have a real effect on your ability to do the job and the risks associated, if any. Employers can refuse to hire you based on a criminal offence only if they can show this is a reasonable and bona fide step. For example, if you’re seeking a job driving a school bus and you have a careless driving conviction, the employer may choose not to employ you.

You can always try to obtain a record suspension (or a pardon) for a crime that you’ve been convicted of as an employer cannot ask about that crime and you can honestly say that you don’t have a criminal record.

Lastly, any background check results must first be disclosed to the employee, and you should be given an opportunity to review the results before the information is released to an employer. If you believe the information is inaccurate, you can request reconsideration. Further, the record will only be released to the employer after you consent in writing and the employer can only use the information for the purposes of which it was originally requested. Of course, individuals should seek legal advice regarding each request before agreeing.

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