The relevance of police character checks in the Australian workplace

The relevance of police character checks in the Australian workplace
The Siliconreview
23 November, 2020

Over the past decade there’s been a marked increase in Australian businesses including criminal history checks in their pre-employment screening, but some questions remain. How are such character checks relevant and, even more important, how are the findings of a police check to be used?

Is a background check relevant to the job description?

The first thing Human Resources managers need to consider is how relevant is a criminal record for the position a certain employee will occupy within the company? That largely depends on the position a job applicant will occupy. An executive position offers an employee more opportunities to commit financial frauds. People working on designs for new products or the company’s future strategy could do untold damage by selling company secrets. On the other hand, cleaning and maintenance personnel can hardly inflict the same level of damage, which is not to say that they cannot cause problems. Nowadays innovative agencies have made it easier for individuals and businesses to obtain police character checks. An old process that was traditionally conducted at a local police station and was paper heavy can now be completed in the comfort of a person's home via services like the following Australian character check link: (website link). These online services have made criminal checks simpler and accessible for applicants who require these checks for employment. The aims of such services are to increase community safety by providing decision makers with accurate and timely criminal history information.

Any employee can cause problems if not properly vetted, but some can be very dangerous.

How about privacy and fairness?

One essential aspect HR personnel need to keep in mind at all times is that conducting a character check cannot be done without the prospective employee’s written consent. Should a company decide such a check is necessary, the candidate needs to be made aware of it, preferably at the first job interview.

If and only if the candidate agrees, the HR can explain such background checks are easily handled through accredited online character check agencies, which only require basic identity information and a recent photo. The results of such background checks come via email and it is the duty of the HR manager to ensure the results are kept confidential. No other employees should have access to the criminal report.

Should the police check show there are some offences on the applicant’s criminal record, the candidate should be given a chance to explain what happened.

Can you reject an application based on the criminal record findings?

Human Resources managers should exercise common sense when judging the situation of a prospective employee.

One thing to consider is how old a conviction is and how the candidate might have changed in the meantime. Criminal records should not be used in such a way as to cut off a former convict’s chances of gaining meaningful employment. A minor offence committed while the candidate was still in college can be overlooked in most cases. Keep in mind that such convictions are legally erased (known as spent convictions) from the criminal record after 10 years, under the Spent Convictions scheme. If it’s been only 7 years since the offence was committed is it right to refuse employment? In three more years, the same candidate would have a clean record.

Also, employers should make sure the nature of the offence is relevant to the job when turning down an application. You would not hire a convicted thief as your next head accountant and you’d have every right to do so. On the other hand, turning down someone for the same position based on a drunk driving charge could lead to a discrimination lawsuit based on unfair hiring practices. There is a fine balance that needs to be followed and company hiring policy needs to clearly outline these steps and be accessible by job applicants.

Criminal history checks are essential when hiring new people as they can protect the company, but employers should read the laws carefully and make sure not to infringe on the prospective employee’s rights.