If you have a criminal record, you may very well be looking at difficulty in your professional life for as long as you work. A criminal record doesn’t go away simply because you served your sentence. The record has a rather unfortunate way of lingering and appearing at the least opportune places – usually in your career.
Wiping Away a Criminal Record
While there are ways you can seal up your old criminal record it’s not as simple as filling out an online form. The Criminal Records suspension program through Corrections Canada will allow you to suspend a record that is five to ten years old. Summary convictions require a five year waiting period. Indictable offenses require ten years after your sentence is complete, including probationary periods.
The criminal records suspension not only require waiting, it also requires close to $1,000 in fees and a significant amount of paperwork. Some convictions, including three or more indictable offenses, are never eligible for a pardon. But even with all of the headaches involved in applying for a record suspension, if you are eligible, it is often the most important thing you can do for your own career.
Criminal Records in the Workplace
Old (or new) criminal convictions can cost you quite a bit in the workplace. If you are applying for a new job, an increasing number of Canadian workplaces are now requiring criminal background checks before declaring an applicant as eligible as a new hire. While some career fields have always included a criminal background check, the list has been expanding from these traditional fields into new areas.
Traditional fields that require a background and criminal record check include:
- Any Government Office
- Nurses and Medical Personnel
- Police Officers
- Collection Agents
- Casino Employees
- Security Guards
- Car Dealers
- Insurance Brokers
- Bank Employees
- Funeral Directors
- Truck Drivers
- Taxi and Limo Drivers
- Day Care Workers
- School Teachers
But retailers and fast food managers and owners are quickly realizing that background and criminal record checks may help protect the large amounts of cash that change hands on a daily basis. Working in trades like construction or even a day laborer may require being bondable as well for insurance reasons. While those with criminal convictions are often still bondable, or able to be insured for work, the bond is more expensive for those with a background than those without one. It’s not hard to see where a company would avoid paying more for those with a record. Likewise, most office jobs require at least a cursory background check as well.
While it’s hard to blame a shop owner from wanting to ensure thousands of dollars in merchandise are safe from employees, it’s frustrating for the applicant who has criminal convictions lingering from decades ago. Mistakes you made in your late teens or early twenties can create a lasting impact you feel in your wallet for the rest of your life.
Career Advancement and Criminal Records
It’s not just new jobs that are affected by criminal record checks. If you are comfortable in your current job and considering moving up the ranks over the years you may quickly run into a glass ceiling. In many cases your record may keep you from being promoted. Increasingly in the professional world to move up in companies you must make lateral changes from one company to another, bouncing higher and higher up the food chain. A single criminal record check can stop your career climb in its tracks, leaving you stuck in your current position without the possibility of advancement.
Even within your current company, moving up a few pegs may require you submitting a new application for the open position. With that new application will come an interview and a few other details for the new level of employment, including a background check. If the new position requires any travel, you are definitely out of the running.
When you fill out an application, there is almost always small print at the bottom of the page indicating the submission of your application gives the company the right to check your criminal background. This means just “testing the waters” of a promotion may have devastating consequences. You apply for a new position within your company.
This process includes a background check – something that was not required when you were hired for your current position. The background check reveals that you have a criminal record. Suddenly you are not just denied the promotion, you may be denied your current job as well and wind up fired or laid off in the next round of “down-sizing”. Worse, if your industry is a small one, the discovery of your criminal record can have far-reaching impacts making you all but non-hirable in other companies as well.
While traveling for pleasure with a criminal record is frustrating, it is near to impossible to travel for business reasons if you have criminal convictions or summary offenses. Crossing international borders, and many working Canadians do, is next to impossible if you have a criminal conviction. While there are a few possibilities to gain entry, the process is hugely embarrassing and cumbersome, especially in a professional setting. Employers are not interested in hiring an immigration lawyer to handle the paperwork and expense necessary to get you across the United States border for a conference or meeting.
Criminal Records and Self-Employment
With the amount of difficulty present in companies who conduct background checks, it might make sense to become self-employed. While this may help in some regards, a criminal background can still create issues as a self-employed individual as well. Having a criminal background will keep you from working with many government agencies or obtaining contracts.
Working as a contractor or subcontractor with other companies may also be an issue. While you may be a self-employed programmer or designer, taking on work from larger clients may require background checks just like standard employment. The issue of being bondable, or insured, for many jobs in homes and businesses can arise with self-employment as well.
Working with a Criminal Record
While you wait for the necessary amount of time to pass before applying for a record suspension, you will need to find ways to work with your criminal record. There are a few ways to improve your chances at new positions or to move up in your current company.
If you were charged with a crime, but not convicted, the charges may still be showing up on your criminal record. If this is the case, you do not need a criminal record suspension, you likely need a criminal record destruction. In essence, you were never guilty of a crime, so it should be struck from your record. It is work investigating your own record and cleaning up issues that can be cleaned before applying for any new positions.
Applications and Resume
Almost all applications will include a question about your criminal background. When you see these questions, it’s important to know a few things. You do not have to give anyone the right to check your criminal history. Of course, refusal to allow a check may be effectively refusing the position as well. Applications may be required, but in many cases you can improve your application with a well prepared resume.
Design your resume to be a functional resume or a combination of chronology and abilities, covering skills and listing all of your impressive abilities and accomplishments first. This will help to cover gaps in your employment history that may have been caused by your past and also show would-be employers why you are such an excellent applicant.
On paper applications, simply write your name on the application and then write “see attached” to show your address, previous work information and additional skills. Simply attach the resume to the application and turn it in. Where this is not a possibility, leave the criminal record section of an application blank, submit your resume electronically and plan to discuss the issue in an interview.
Disclosing Your Record
If you are asked about your criminal record in an interview, you have two choices. The first choice is to lie about your record. This is obviously a terrible choice, especially since there are so many ways for your record to be discovered – a quick background check, your parole officer calling to check on you, your references mentioning it. It’s far better to explain your record and emphasize how the offenses were in the past and how they do not reflect who you are now and what you are capable of in the position.
It’s important to tell the truth if asked in an interview, but you do not have to give more details than are strictly necessary. Be sure to mention how you have made positive changes and are ready to move on, leaving your past behind you. While you may still be denied the position, you will know you have done your best. If you are in an interview and the interviewer does not ask about a criminal background, you have no obligation to share this information. If they don’t ask, it’s up to you on what you wish to share. If you do choose to share, do so in the middle of the interview so that the beginning and the end of the conversation are more positive.