In the climate of fear and mistrust brought about by the revelation that sex offenders have been working in schools, it is understandable that employers might be over-zealous in their vetting of potential recruits.
Put yourself in the position of the head of a school or hospital. They have particularly vulnerable clients to protect from predation, violence and theft. And the cost of getting it wrong is almost unimaginable, as demonstrated by the events in Soham in 2002. You would surely use every means at your disposal to keep out of your employment the most unsavoury elements of society.
And you would not be alone. Some employers in the NHS have been making background checks on all new staff.
But erring on the side of caution is, by definition, still erring.
For NHS employers, Criminal Records Bureau checks are only allowed for patient-facing staff – for example nurses and porters. Administrative or maintenance staff come under protection from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, which allows people who have ‘paid their debt to society’ a fair chance of reintegration, and the Data Protection Act, which restricts general access to “sensitive personal data”.
Both Acts are the kind that many people despise for protecting criminals and ignoring victims – ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about,’ is a common refrain from people who would demand full access to a wide variety of personal information. And you might share that view.
But until or unless the law changes, ultimately we all must abide by its framework. And barring all convicted criminals from all jobs is certain to cause us to fall foul of that other unpopular law – the law of unintended consequences. Without rehabilitation, crime escalates and the number of victims, from all walks of life, increases.
Rob Willock, group editor, Personnel Today