Case study – Zara – People with a criminal record don’t always remember the details of their conviction: self-disclosure almost cost me my job

Zara contacted our helpline seeking advice following her dismissal from work due to the non-disclosure of information on her DBS certificate.

Zara explained that she’d been working at a children’s nursery and was still in her probationary period when she was dismissed. She confirmed that at every stage of the application process she had been open and honest about her criminal record and was in no doubt that the details would also be verified on her enhanced DBS certificate.

Prior to receiving her certificate, Zara had been asked by her manager to confirm the details of her convictions as the Area Manager needed the information urgently. Zara told our advisor that she was asked for the information in front of the children in her care and other members of staff which caused her to become really flustered and meant that she only managed to disclose details of the convictions that she could remember at the time. Although she thought she may have missed something, she wasn’t unduly worried knowing that she’d disclosed everything at interview and that it would appear on her enhanced DBS certificate.

Zara told our advisor that it was following this conversation that she was dismissed on the basis that she had lied about her convictions. Zara wanted to know whether there was anything she could do to get her job back.

The advisor confirmed that Zara could write to the nursery and ask them to reconsider their decision. The advisor suggested that the letter should cover some of the following points:

  • That Zara had been open and honest throughout the application process but, asking her to provide details of her criminal record whilst she was in charge of a group of children and, in front of other staff members was not appropriate and meant that she did not have accurate details to hand.
  • Given that she had already disclosed her convictions at application stage and a DBS enhanced check had been applied for, why was there such urgency in asking her to provide the details of her criminal record?
  • Although she may have omitted some details of her criminal record, this was not intentional and, knowing that her enhanced check had been applied for, would have been counterintuitive.

The advisor also suggested that Zara request copies of all data relating to her employment and dismissal.

Once she’d drafted her letter of appeal Zara sent a copy of it to our advisor who provided her with some additional comments and feedback.

Several weeks later Zara contacted the helpline again to say:

“I had a meeting with the nursery yesterday and I was able to go through all the points I’d set out in my letter of appeal. I had a phone call later that afternoon telling me that I had my job back.”

Lessons

Where an employer intends to carry out a DBS check, it is hard to see the purpose of asking an applicant to self-disclose, particularly when, as in this case, it was essentially used as a test of honesty. As this case demonstrates, people can’t always remember the details in full.

In our work with employers, we would always recommend that organisations:

  • Consider whether self-disclosure is both necessary and appropriate.
  • Be clear that self-disclosure is an applicant’s chance to provide context around their convictions, not an opportunity to compare the DBS disclosure as a test of honesty or memory.

Notes about this case study

  1. Zara was supported by Unlock’s helpline.
  2. We have practical guidance on disclosing criminal records to employers.
  3. Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
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