Before the new millennium, checking on the criminal record of a prospective employee was done through a standard police check. This pathed the way for honest conversations and risk assessments as a key component of due diligence for pre-employment.
Since 2000, all Australian State and Territory jurisdictions have introduced Working With Children legislation and schemes. A designated government office screens people for child-related work, resulting in Checks and Clearances. NSW was the first to introduce such a scheme in 2000 while Tasmania was the last in 2014. Most jurisdictions issued a Working with Children Check (WWCC) with a unique Clearance number, with a few exceptions: Blue Card in QLD’ Ochre Card in NT; and Working with Vulnerable People in ACT and TAS.
As the scope of the scheme widened to include a national criminal history record check and even a review of reportable workplace misconduct (NSW), more employers are opting for this rather than the traditional Police Check.
There are plausible reasons for this transition, as employers mistakenly assume that the WWCC kills two birds with one stone.
Let’s look at the shiny allure of the WWCC silver bullet:
- The Clearance certificate is akin to a licence in that it remains valid for three years, except for NSW and Victoria where it is valid for five years.
- The responsible government office ‘continuously monitors’ the behaviour of the individual. This office is automatically notified of any new and relevant police record, which triggers a review of the risk assessment. As with any licence, this may lead to the Clearance being cancelled and the employer is notified accordingly of this change of status. This gives the employer peace of mind that the Clearance remains current rather than oblivious to any subsequent criminal offences.
- A national Police Check is only a ‘point of time’ check, with no ongoing assessment for a three or five year duration. Unlike the WWCC, it is not a ‘licence’ that can be triggered, reviewed, suspended or cancelled.
- Unlike the Police Check, the onus is on the individual rather than the employer to make the WWCC application online. The only exception is Queensland where the employer applies on behalf of the individual. WWWC’s cost over $120 to the individual applicant, which is usually one less cost for the hiring employer.
- While Police Checks take about 24 hours, the WWCC process can take up to four weeks. While this delay may appear to be a disincentive, employers can often commence the contract ‘pending’ the outcome of such checks. The applicant can produce a Statutory Declaration stating no known reason that a Clearance would be denied.
If this all sounds too good to be true, it is because some important truths may escape this new net. These truths serve to enable the employer to understand the full picture rather than potentially hiring someone with a false sense of security.
The WWCC provides either a general Clearance or rejection, as no reasons or specifics can be disclosed legally. This sheds very little light on the character of the candidate and may lead to false assumptions about any charges, convictions, incidents related or unrelated to child offenses. The denial of a clearance may actually be irrelevant to the employment, depending on the nature of the role during the three to five year ‘clearance’ period.
A blanket rejection does not equip an employer with facts to make an informed decision, so rejection of the candidate becomes the safest and only option. However, a Police Check reveals specific details about the offences which enables an honest discussion, a more enlightened perspective and a more informed decision making process.
The converse is also problematic. A Clearance may give the employer the green light to hire and infer that the candidate is of good character.
However, the WWCC is a wide net with gaping loopholes for ‘fishy’ misdemeanours that may be a more useful window to the character in question. For example, white collar crimes, fraud, money laundering, terrorism funding, embezzlement, extortion, bribery, forgery, cybercrime, traffic convictions, pending charges, identity theft and international crimes all swim through this WWCC net.
For prospective employment in finance, accounting, payroll and management, this long list of crimes is more relevant to the person’s suitability than some juvenile record. Rather than raising red flags, the WWCC provides a green light to proceed.
In Summary: The solution is simple: cast the right net for the right fish. If the position is indeed in a ‘white collar’ corporate role, the WWCC is too loose, and a regular Police Check is required – both Nationally and Internationally.