Employee background checks are a norm in most organizations. But how far can an employee background check really go?

In this blog, we’ll define an employee background check, explain why it’s important, and explain the legal ramifications of doing one.

What is an Employee Background Check?

An employee background check, also known as a pre-employment screening, is a process where an employer checks to ensure that a person is who they claim to be. It provides an employer with the opportunity to check an employee’s criminal record, employment history, education, and any other relevant activities. In Australia, employee background checks are common practice, with many Australian employers viewing it as an important part of the recruitment process. 

Why would I want to do a Pre-Employment Screening?

Employee background checks can be useful in determining if an applicant is suitable for the role they are applying for. The main reasons that employers would want to conduct an employee background check are:

  • Safety of customers and employees 
  • Maintaining the reputation of the business 
  • To reduce the instance of theft from the company

What Types of Employee Background Checks Can Be Conducted?

There are 6 pre-employment screening tests that can be conducted, and they are as follows:

Police Check

A police check is a pre-employment screening test that assesses an applicant’s criminal history. It requires fingerprinting and relevant paperwork. As long as the candidate is 14 or older, employers can request to have this check performed. To carry out this check you need the express consent of the applicant.

Working with Children Check

A working with children check must be done separately from a police check and is defined in the Child Protection Act 2012. Employers are also encouraged to use social media as part of their employee background checks to ensure the integrity of applicants.

Qualification Check

A qualification check ensures that an employee achieved the educational degrees and other qualifications that they specified in their application. Employers also use this to verify certificates and licenses as well, this is especially important where employees are required to have specific qualifications to ensure safety.

Reference Check

A references check helps employers confirm how the applicant works and performs in a working environment. It also helps verify the applicant’s working history and responsibilities.

Credit History Check

A credit history check is especially important where the applicant’s role involves managing finances. The employer would have to gain consent from an applicant or employee prior to conducting this check.

Medical Screening

Applicants cannot be required to undergo a medical screening during the recruitment procedure. However, in Queensland, there is an exception and employers are able to ask applicants whether they have an injury or pre-existing medical condition if that condition could be aggravated by carrying out duties associated with the relevant role. Additionally, once candidates become employees, employers have more freedom to conduct employee background checks. As such, they can request employees to undergo medical examinations as long as it is reasonable within the circumstances. 

Medical Screening Employee Background Check Australia

When Can an Employee Background Check Be Conducted? 

Employers generally have the freedom to conduct employee background tests during the recruitment process and during employment. It must be noted that some employee checks can only be conducted after an individual becomes an employee. Equally, employers must request permission from the candidate before running any type of background check. 

Are Employee Background Checks Legal? 

Pre-employment screenings are legal, however, employers are not allowed to discriminate against applicants on the basis of results from the background checks. Additionally, employers have to consider the following when conducting these checks:

  1. Employers cannot ask applicants for information relating to protected characteristics
    • Employers cannot ask applicants to discuss any information about their:
      • gender, marital status, or sexual identity 
      • age group or age
      • any disability
  2. Applicants have to be informed about the employee background check
    • Applicants need to know how their personal information is being collected  and about other third parties such as referees 
  3. Personal information collected must be necessary 
    • Employers must only collect data that is necessary and relevant to the individuals’ application
  4. Individuals must give consent
    • Applicants must give their express consent for the collection of any information that can be considered as “sensitive”
    • This includes:
      • Union Membership
      • Genetic or Health information 
      • Criminal Records
      • Ethnic Origin or Race 
      • Political Affiliation or Opinions 
      • Sexual Preferences 
      • Religious Beliefs 
  5. Applicants must have access to collected data 
    • Applicants must be allowed full access to their personal information if they wish