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Should I tell my potential employer or my recruitment agent about my criminal record? Many candidates with records against their names often ponder whether to come clean or not, as they fear it may impact their chances of securing the job.

Whatever you do, do not lie about your criminal record or pretend it “doesn’t’ exist.” As recruiters we suggest that candidates with a criminal record bring this up as soon as possible. It is much better to be honest and upfront so that it can be managed accordingly, and nobody’s time is wasted – whether it be the employer, candidate or recruiter for that matter.

In South Africa, Section 6 of the Employment Equity Act protects job applicants against discrimination regarding a number of arbitrary grounds, however, don’t think you can lie to cover up your past indiscretions. An employer has the right to carry out background checks (including criminal checks) on potential employees, and should they find out that you’ve lied about your record, you can kiss the job goodbye.

Organisations can use their discretion when hiring; we are seeing many employers taking into account minor offenses when considering a candidate for employment. For example, if a candidate had a drunk driving charge at the age of 18 and has since proved to be an upstanding citizen in every way, this charge shouldn’t carry much weight when considering him or her for a position.

The nature of the crime will certainly impact your job prospects. For example, if the record is related to the job function the person needs to perform, i.e. theft and fraud, the candidate would most likely not be considered for a position in finance or banking. However, if the crime committed has nothing to do with the offense, the candidate should not be discriminated against.

If your conviction included any of the following factors, it may ease the employer’s concerns and make you more hireable:

  • An old criminal record
  • A crime that is not relevant to the job you’re applying for
  • You committed the crime because of a tough time, and have overcome the difficulty
  • The crime is not as serious as it sounds
  • The circumstances in which the crime was committed lessens its severity

Fortunately, candidates that have committed minor crimes in their youth don’t need to let their past criminal records haunt them. There are options available, assuming they meet the right criteria, to have their name and record cleared.