News that criminal record checks could become standard procedure in pharmacy employment provoked strong reaction last year. Not only was there fierce opposition to the Home Office's move to extend its vetting and barring scheme, but there was also widespread confusion about when the checks should apply.
And this confusion is still ongoing. Earlier this summer, PSNC reported regularly receiving queries on the issue. So where do employees stand when it comes to criminal checks?
Who needs a CRB check?
Not all pharmacists and technicians need a criminal record bureau (CRB) check before starting employment, PSNC says. In fact, the only pharmacy professionals the NHS requires to undergo checks are those who provide services outside the pharmacy premises, such as conducting MURs at the patient's home. But local commissioning can muddy the waters. Commissioners have the option to impose conditions on enhanced services, which can include CRB checks for the provider.
What must I disclose to my employer?
As professionals, pharmacists must disclose criminal convictions to their employer – regardless of whether they are spent or unspent. But this doesn't mean you should be automatically discounted from the employment process, says Gareth Matthews, associate at legal firm Eversheds LLP. He stresses that a blanket ban on employing people with criminal convictions is considered unfair.
"Fair practice suggests an employer should consider the seriousness of the conviction, the period of time that has elapsed, the relevance to the role and the individual's explanation for the conviction or its circumstances," he explains.
So can jobseekers ensure these guidelines are followed? Unfortunately, prospective employees are often in a weak position. "Ultimately, there is little onus on an employer to adhere to fair practice, not least because there is very little a prospective employee can do if they feel they have been unfairly treated," Mr Matthews says.
What happens if I hide a conviction from my employer?
It's never advisable to lie to your employer, but many people feel understandably wary of revealing their criminal convictions. If you've failed to declare an offence, employers will not necessarily be able to dismiss you from your job straight away. Employees who have worked at the company long enough to claim for unfair dismissal – one year for employees who started before April 6 this year, and two years for those who started afterwards – will have some protection.
"An employer may be able to argue there has been a breakdown in trust and confidence between the parties, which might justify a dismissal," Mr Matthews explains. "On the other hand, if the employee concerned has shown themselves to be an otherwise trustworthy and competent employee over a number of years, it may be difficult to show that a decision to dismiss was within the range of reasonable responses."