Steve Norman, 37, was at wit’s end last week after an almost year-long job search. The ad outlined his experience in hospitality and general labor, as well as forklift certification and paperwork as an asbestos abatement worker. There was one catch. Norman has a criminal record.
“I’m going, to be honest right off the hop (sic),” he wrote, noting he served time “for armed robbery because of a drug addiction that got the better of me.” It didn’t stop there.
“I almost lost my family once, and I feel like I’m about to lose them again because I can’t put food on the table,” he wrote. “I’m hoping to find that there are still some good people out there that understand that some people make mistakes, but also learn from them.”
Posted Dec. 7, the ad had more than 47,000 visits by the end of the weekend. Someone unknown to Norman posted an image of the ad on Facebook. It had countless shares and comments.
“I had 100 responses on the first day, and it kept going off from there,” said Norman.
His email filled up, and the phone started to ring.
Norman’s ad was a last-ditch effort, and his honesty about his family — he’s married and has four children under the age of 16 — and including his record was an effort to be up front and avoid the background check question that seemed to become a deal breaker.
“If somebody calls me, (now) they know what I am about, and if they move on, that’s fine,” he said.
In 2010, Norman said he was struggling with cocaine addiction and was arrested for robbery with a weapon in Peterborough. He spent 40 months at the Joyceville Institution in Kingston and 20 months in a federal halfway house.
He completed his Grade 12 education and participated in drug rehabilitation and anger management programs, as well as skilled labor training.
The training was valuable but Norman felt his work at Corcan — a program with Correctional Service of Canada — stuck out like a sore thumb on his resumé.
Clean and sober, Norman settled in Fenelon Falls, Ont., with his family and continued to look for jobs. He found temporary work but it was inconsistent, and the pay was not substantial. Doors to other work seemed closed. Was it his tattoos and piercings? Norman believes it was his record. It had come up before in otherwise positive interviews.
While it may seem tempting to lie about having a conviction, Jon Hedderwick, an employment counselor with Employment, Planning & Counselling in Peterborough advises against it and instead suggests that you “know what you are going to say.”
“It depends on what they’ve done since the criminal record, what they’ve done to prepare to return to work since coming back out from jail and where they see themselves fitting into the labor market,” he said.
Honesty worked in Norman’s case.
Messages came in long after the ad was deleted. Some wished him luck, while others offered cash for him to shovel snow or cut wood. Within a week, had 40 to 50 interview offers in his mailbox and voicemail.
“I didn’t think anything would come out of it like this,” he said.
Norman now has a full-time job at a granite company near Minden, and starts Monday.
He called the offer a lesson in forgiveness.
Employers have broad discretion when determining candidates they feel are best suited for a position. It is legitimate to see a criminal background as disqualifying.
“An employer can essentially rule an employee out on account of the fact that they have a criminal conviction,” said Jonquille Pak, an employment lawyer with Whitten & Lublin in Toronto. “I don’t see that as being unlawful unless a pardon has been granted.”
A pardon is key, but people with criminal convictions need to wait up to 10 years from the end of their sentence to even begin the process.
“Because you’ve been pardoned, from a societal perspective, you’ve been deemed rehabilitated,” Pak continued. “It would be unfair and unjust to disqualify individuals who have paid their debt to society.”
Proving discrimination when passed over for a job is hard to do. An employer is not obligated to explain why a candidate is not hired.
Norman worked with employment centers in his job search. Some told him to stay home, but others said they do not see a criminal record as a permanent obstacle.
Carol Timlin, an executive director with Victoria County Career Services in Lindsay, explained that counselors can work with employers.
“We want to protect the job seeker, but we also want to protect the employer,” she said. “We try to look for where the fit is.”