How to Find a Job After Prison – Helping Ex-Offenders Move Forward

The case of Luke v Stoke-On-Trent City Council [2006], involved an employee who had been employed as a special needs teacher at the local authority's Assessing Continuing Education Pupil Referral Unit ("the ACE Centre") since 1996. The ACE Centre was the only one of its kind operated by the local authority, and under the terms of her contract of employment ("the ACE Contract"), the employee was required to work at the ACE centre for 12 and three quarter hours per week.

From April 2003, the employee had a separate contract of engagement with the local authority governing the terms of her appointment at a different unit. Problems arose between the employee and the head teacher of the ACE Centre. Between October 2002 and April 2003, the employee was absent due to ill health. She alleged that she had been the victim of bullying and harassment by the head teacher of the ACE Centre.

The local authority commissioned an independent investigator to examine the employee's complaints. All of the employee's complaints were dismissed except for one, and the investigator proposed a return to work action plan designed to assist her in resuming her work at the ACE Centre. The employee indicated that whilst she was willing to take part in the action plan, she was not willing to accept the conclusions drawn by the investigator.

The local authority took the stance that the action plan would have been unworkable on that basis.

On the 13th of June 2003, the local authority formulated a proposal that the employee's return to the ACE Centre would be deferred, perhaps forever. She would be found equivalent hours performing similar work within other parts of the authority.

Initially, the employee agreed to that proposal in principle but, in August 2003, she indicated that she found the proposal unacceptable and that she was still intent upon resuming her employment at the ACE Centre. The local authority maintained its position that the employee's return to work at the ACE centre remained unworkable given her refusal to accept the conclusions of the investigator.

Several alternative proposals were suggested by the local authority which involved the employee working at sites other than at the ACE Centre. The proposed alternatives were deemed unsuitable by the employee, who insisted upon a return to the ACE Centre. Throughout that period, the employee continued to receive remuneration under the terms of the ACE Contract.

Finally, on the 11th of February 2004, the local authority ceased payment of the employee's wages. The employee brought a complaint before the employment tribunal alleging that at all material times she had been ready and willing to do the only work that she had been contractually obliged to do, namely her work at the ACE Centre. She therefore submitted that her wages had been unlawfully deducted within the meaning of Part II of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

The tribunal dismissed the employee's claim. It found that the local authority had reasonably reached the conclusion that her return to work at the ACE Centre was unworkable in the light of her refusal to accept the conclusions of the investigator or the terms of the proposed action plan. In those circumstances, despite the express terms of the ACE Contract, there had been an implied term of the contract permitting the local authority to require her to work at a location, other than that specified in the contract, provided that the employee suffered no detriment. However this could only happen whilst a long term solution to the question of her return to work at the ACE Centre was being resolved.

The employee appealed.

The issue which fell to be determined before the Employment Appeals Tribunal was whether the local authority had been contractually entitled to require the employee to work otherwise than at the ACE Centre.

The appeal was dismissed. It was held that where a written contract clearly defined an employee's contractual duties, the employee ought to be entitled to proceed upon the basis that the employee was not obliged to undertake different duties. In such situations, the finding of an implied obligation to undertake work outside the express terms of the contract would only have been permissible in exceptional circumstances. Such exceptional circumstance being where the requirement was justified, the work was suitable, and the employee suffered no detriment in terms of contractual benefits or status due to the change of duties on a temporary basis.

In this case, the view adopted by the employee in relation to the conclusions of the investigator and the terms of the action plan had given rise to such exceptional circumstances. The tribunal had properly considered all the relevant factors in reaching its conclusions, and in those circumstances had been entitled to make the finding that the ACE Contract contained an implied term entitling the local authority to require the employee to conduct work outside the scope of the express terms of the contract.

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© RT COOPERS, 2007. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.

The question of how to find a job after prison is not an easy one to answer, because there is no “one-size-fits-all” advice. Laws differ from state to state, and each ex-offender’s situation is completely different from another’s. I have seen some statistics that indicate as many of 70% ex-offenders did not finish high school; yet, at the same time, I am aware of plenty of others who have been in trouble with the law who have advanced degrees. So, it is easy to see how different one situation will differ from another.
That being said, there are few challenges ex-offenders have in common as well. And, one of the biggest ones is that individuals who have been incarcerated or otherwise in trouble are often seen as too high a risk for an employer to take a chance on.
It is my sincere hope that if you have been in trouble, that you have taken advantage of any programs that might be available to you through your local employment agency, or any work readiness programs in your area. Also, if you are among the population without a high school diploma, it is going to be in your best interests to get your GED. Regardless of your previous difficulties with schooling (for example, perhaps you have a learning disability), it is going to be critical that you deal with it. And sooner rather than later.
I have had some former clients tell me that they don’t have time to get their GED, because they have to get a job.
When I have asked them about their daily schedule – from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night – and we really get into it, it almost always brings up a lot of time that they cannot account for any productive activity. For example, some of the examples that I have seen a lot is how much time some people spend:
1) in front of the television,
2) playing fantasy games of other games on computer,
3) hanging out with old friends (which, in many cases, is not in their best interests), and/or
4) hanging out with a girl-friend, boy-friend, or their kids.
I don’t really think we need to talk about where one might be able to find a little time to further one’s education. Either you WILL or you WON’T. Either you WILL find the time or you WON’T find the time. That’s really up to the individual, isn’t it?
Look, I’m not saying this to pick on anyone who has seen trouble and struggle. In my same role helping NON ex-offenders figure out their career and job situation, I say the same things when I’m told, “I don’t have the time.”
Another thing I have heard a lot – again, whether one is an ex-offender or not – is “I don’t have the money to do that… “
This one will sound harsh. Do you have “stuff” that you can sell? What about that Wii that somehow you were able to afford, or your TV? For those who have not been in trouble, I often say, “Then get a job at the local fast food restaurant and earn a couple of extra dollars.”
It’s a little more difficult to say that to an ex-offender who might have such low self-esteem that he or she has trouble even
for a job at the local fast food restaurant to begin with. I have seen former clients feeling very dejected because they really did not have anything of value that they could sell, and that they were turned down for the first job that they applied for.
Oftentimes, these individuals have come into the office, slumped down into a chair with their arms crossed, and appearing angry with entire world.
To those of you who may see yourself in that illustration, I offer the following pointers:
If you are carrying around a chip on your shoulder about your past situation, you need to knock that chip off your shoulder. Stop looking angry at the world for your problems. It comes across in facial expressions and posture. Stay away from old friends that may have encouraged your situation in the past.
One method I highly, highly recommend for ANYONE looking to move forward and let go of past troubles is something called The Sedona Method. I have been through the program myself, and I have helped others with it as well. I have also recommended it to ex-offenders who used it with great success. Just type “Sedona Method” into your favorite search engine and you’ll find it. Or go to your local bookstore or library and ask for the book itself, which is written by Hale Dwoskin.
The process guides you through a series of steps to help you “release” the things that may have held you back from being the confident and great person that you are within.
In addition, I suggest that you look objectively at your appearance – if you need some neat “job-hunting” clothes and don’t have any money to purchase any new clothes, get yourself down to your local Salvation Army, Good Will, or any number of non-profit thrift stores. Tell them your situation, and that you need some help getting dressed for job-hunting. Many places will donate clothes – and if not, some of these places are extremely inexpensive. I love shopping at thrift stores. I’ve been able to purchase pants for as low as $1.00!
Don’t forget neat hair, eye contact, teeth brushing and general cleanliness (soap, water, clean clothes, deodorant – Please folks, SKIP the cologne – it does NOT mask body odor or smelly clothes). If you smoke, don’t smoke before interviews. I can always tell when clients were smoking before they saw me – half the time, it hangs on the clothing itself, especially if people smoke in their homes. It gets into everything. So, air out your job-hunting clothes, or at least keep them in a place where the cigarette smoke doesn’t coat them.
Here is some solid advice for working on getting your foot in the door:
Plan and participate in informational interview sessions with prospective employers. There is not enough room in this article to go into this topic in depth; however, in this series of articles under my author name, you can find 2 articles on this subject:
These articles, along with some other resources I’ll mention in a moment, are just as valid for you as they are for someone who has
been in trouble with the law.
Finally, while you are learning how to find a job after prison, while working with your local employment counselor, social worker, or spiritual advisor, be sure to think of all the wonderful things you CAN do and CAN offer an employer.
As difficult as it may be to believe, your job search is going to be about
. It’s about them as much as it is about you! You will show them how you can help meet their needs! Once you find out what an employer needs in an employee, you can begin working on showing him or her how you fit the bill.