Employee dismissed for having a criminal record seeks redress

A support worker at a not-for-profit organisation that cares for vulnerable people was dismissed weeks into the job for having a criminal record, despite having mentioned her record before her appointment.

Frances O'Brien
Frances O'Brien

Frances O'Brien, 35, said she showed her most recent Criminal Records Bureau check to Octavia Housing & Care's HR department when she accepted the job, even though she was under no obligation to do so, because she wanted to be "up front" about her past.

She said Paul Devine, special projects and supported housing manager at Octavia, told her it wasn't an issue and said she was "head and shoulders" above other applicants. Octavia confirmed that O'Brien showed it the CRB check before she started.

But three weeks into the job, a new check requested by Octavia was returned, revealing that O'Brien had three spent convictions. She was fined twice for shoplifting and once for credit card fraud in the 1990s.

Devine then gave O'Brien a letter saying that the organisation had received her latest CRB check and would require her at a meeting.

At the meeting, she was informed the organisation could no longer employ her.

"I was shocked that Octavia felt I couldn't be forgiven for something that's in my past," said O'Brien, who is now unemployed.

"Paul Devine claimed that I lied in my interview and told him that I had committed only one offence," she said. "But what actually happened is that he asked me if I had a criminal record and I said 'yes'. I gave them my most recent CRB check."

O'Brien was asked to leave and is now seeking legal aid in order to claim financial compensation.

"I was angry because I feel I proved myself in my last job as a support worker for vulnerable people at Surrey County Council, which gave me a glowing reference," she said. "I'm not proud of my past and want to give something back, but I'm not being allowed to do that.

"I feel this will continue to be an issue, so unfortunately I have to find a new career."

A spokesman for Octavia said: "Our first priority is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all our residents.

"Because of the vulnerable nature of our client group, with certain posts we require an enhanced CRB check that lists all convictions, spent and unspent.

"We review these on a case-by-case basis - in this instance, the individual's convictions were an issue for concern. We therefore took the difficult decision not to continue her employment."

The spokesman refuted O'Brien's allegation that Devine accused her of lying, but added that the organisation did not want to comment on an individual case that came down to one person's word against another's.

- See Feature, page 16.

HOW HAVING A CRIMINAL RECORD AFFECTS WOULD-BE STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS

Individuals with criminal records are more than twice as likely to find jobs in the voluntary sector than they are in the private sector, according to research.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development discovered that 76 per cent of charities had employed ex-offenders over the past two years, compared with only 34 per cent in the private sector (Third Sector, 17 May).

But a separate report concluded there was still much room for improvement (Third Sector, 16 August 2006). Mervyn Barrett, one of the authors of Involving Ex-offenders in Volunteering, a guide by ex-offenders charity Nacro and Volunteering England, said: "We know of many people who have been turned down for voluntary work, often on the basis of old and irrelevant convictions."

The report claimed that about two-thirds of would-be volunteers with criminal records avoided applying for roles where disclosure was required.

Jean Pardey, who oversees volunteering charity CSV's day-release programme for offenders who want to volunteer while completing their sentences, agreed that the sector could do more (Third Sector Online, 24 April).

"We know that some ex-prisoners are turned down by charities because of perceived worries about risk and suitability," she said.

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