Firms are being urged to stop asking for criminal record details on job application forms because they give employers a “false sense of security”.
Jobseekers are also put off applying for work if they have to declare any convictions upfront, according to a study for Virgin Trains and the charity Business in the Community.
They called on companies to find more supportive ways to discuss potential recruits’ criminal backgrounds.
Some candidates with no record may pose a greater risk of offending, it was claimed.
Dr Beth Weaver, a senior lecturer at Strathclyde University, said: “Around 38% of men and 9% of women in Scotland have at least one criminal conviction, so this issue affects a large number of people.
“Giving people a chance to work can improve outcomes for people and contribute to a safer and more just society.
“Asking people to disclose their convictions at the job application stage legitimises employer discrimination, as most employers don’t know how to make sense of the information provided and undermines the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.”
Virgin Trains said it has been proactively recruiting people with convictions for five years and has banned the criminal record declaration form on job applications.
Its recruiter Kathryn Wildman said: “We’ve banned the box, but that doesn’t mean we don’t ask job applicants about their past offending.
“Rather than ask people to tick a box on application, we’ll have a conversation at interview stage in which we talk about their offences and where they are on the rehabilitation journey.
“That may still result in a no from us, but it gives that person the opportunity to discuss their past and what they’ve got to offer in a supportive environment rather than just being dismissed out of hand.
“And our experience is that we’ve identified some fantastic people with convictions who have gone on to perform really well for us and helped our business grow.”
The research was conducted by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice, a collaboration between Strathclyde, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling universities.
Liz Cameron, director of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “At a time of stubborn skills shortages in many sectors, businesses should reassess their recruitment practices and consider banning the box where feasible and extend the talent pool available to them.”