It's the law: Exceptions to general principle muddy law on spent convictions

The question of whether an employer has the legal right to refuse employment to an employee with a spent conviction has no single answer.

The general principle set down by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is that any conviction that has become spent or any failure to disclose a spent conviction shall not be a proper ground for "dismissing, excluding or prejudicing an individual" in the course of any employment. There are exceptions, however. A number of professions are excluded from protection, including doctors, solicitors and teachers.

A further exception in the charity sector applies to any employment that is concerned with the provision of care services to children or vulnerable adults and where such employment would enable the employee, in the course of his normal duties, to have access to vulnerable people receiving such services. 'Vulnerable adults' include those with substantial learning or physical disabilities, or physical or mental disorders.

This exception and the need for care providers to carry out additional checks, under the Protection of Vulnerable Adults scheme, say, means charities such as care providers have the discretion to refuse employment to people with spent convictions. This will sometimes be reasonable if the conviction is relevant - abuse, for example.

- Emma Burrows is a partner and head of the employment group at Trowers and Hamlins solicitors.

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