Most companies find it necessary at some point to conduct employee screening. It helps you to verify that your prospective employees are who they say they are, know what they say they know, and have the skills and experience they claim to have. In Australia, however, as in many other countries, there is a limit to the sort of screening you can undertake on your employees, and you can get into serious trouble if you cross the line.
So before your reference checks and education verification efforts turn into something more and land you in hot water, here’s what you need to know about various kinds of screening in Australia.
It’s not illegal to require medical screening in Australia in certain jobs and industries, particularly if the job requires a specific level of health. It is illegal, however, to discriminate against prospective employees based on the results of tests. As a general rule, medical screening should be reserved for jobs where health is a factor, and only become a reason for not hiring if the condition of the applicant would be a direct risk to themselves, other employees or the public.
Because this can be a legal minefield, we always recommend hiring a professional screening organization for this sort of screening.
Reference checks, including contacting past employers, exploring reasons for leaving former positions and past track records is allowed in Australia, which can—and should—be conducted routinely when you’re hiring. Because of the increase in fraudulent references and other issues, it’s usually best to hire an outside screening agency to conduct thorough checks for key positions.
Criminal Record Checks
Criminal record checks are one area of employee screening where Australian employers can find themselves in a tight corner. Generally, it’s not a good idea to enquire about any irrelevant criminal history, or to discriminate against a candidate based on past history that is not directly related to the job. Although there are cases where criminal record checks are necessary, there are many laws, regulations and privacy restrictions, and it’s vital to ensure you follow best practices for doing so.
Education verification is a fairly routine aspect of Australian employee background screening, and can usually be performed fairly easily. The difficult part comes when employees claim to have qualifications from foreign or now-defunct institutions, where a little more digging may be required to verify that the education credentials presented are bona fide.
Balancing Corporate Needs and Legislation
The laws in Australia can make it challenging to balance the need for prospective employee information against the individual’s right to privacy and non-discrimination. Companies often find themselves struggling to figure out where to draw the line, and they either fail to conduct sufficient due diligence leading to problems later, or they go too far and find themselves in trouble from the start.
If you’re unsure about what is acceptable in your area and industry, then it may be worth hiring a neutral third party, which can do all the investigations you need and present only the relevant and applicable information in an easy to follow report. It reduces risk all round.