The ‘Right to be Forgotten': Something to remember

July 31, 2014

Steve Girdler is managing director for EMEA at HireRight, a global provider of candidate due diligence services. The opinions expressed are his own–

The EU’s court ruling in May granted people the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ from Google searches, and while the issue is tied up in controversy for the time being, what it does do is convey the message that people should have the opportunity to move on from their past.

This is further reinforced by the recent changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, which mean that, depending on the length of the sentence and the nature of the crime committed, ex-offenders don’t have to inform their employer of their criminal past.

But do these new regulations provide benefits to employers and jobseekers, or make it more difficult for companies to fully assess candidates before employing them? Could it increase the risk that the businesses will employ someone who could potentially damage the company?

Firstly, what the legal changes will do for businesses is increase the pool of talent for them to choose from when recruiting. Looking at it from the jobseeker’s perspective, they may also help prevent people getting trapped in a downward cycle for a misstep that happened sometime ago and give them a chance to better themselves.

While criminal record and online checks can be useful, they could be seen as rudimentary measures for trying to find out about a potential candidate and these two checks alone cannot possibly determine whether someone has the necessary skills, experience and capabilities to fulfil a role or be a good cultural fit for the organisation.

But can these changes be helpful? One instance that immediately comes to mind is the hiring of the country’s first youth crime commissioner, Paris Brown. A simple check of her online presence before being hired could have avoided the stress and embarrassment of dealing with the consequences, once raised by the media. Or indeed more recently with ex-chairman of the Co-operative bank. Paul Flowers’ criminal record could have been uncovered through a pre-employment criminal record check saving the bank the huge reputational damage it has sustained. With such a financial burden and corporate responsibility to other members of staff, some companies would prefer to spend the time and money looking at criminal background checks and assessing someone’s online presence before taking them on.

The motives behind initiatives such as the Right to be Forgotten and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act reform are positive and do support the message that all people make mistakes and can change. Even if someone has a criminal record, it doesn’t mean they won’t be a good fit for a company or the right person for a job.

Organisations should stop relying too heavily on criminal background checks and Google searches, and allow those who genuinely want to work for them the chance to show their character. Assessing a job candidate’s professional and financial history, aptitude and relevant skill set can be a much better barometer for making a hiring decision, and if they measure up they should be given the right to have their past forgotten.


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