Relevance of Criminal History Police Checks in the Workplace

Employers generally want to ensure that a potential employee is honest, reliable and trustworthy. Conducting a police check can be a good indication of whether or not a job candidate possesses these qualities; however this may not always be reasonable or appropriate.

What needs to be considered when conducting criminal history police checks?

The first issue to consider is why the police check is required. The employer should ensure that the information is relevant and necessary, and that it will assist them to make a decision about whether the candidate is able to perform the role for which they are being considered and should be offered the job.

Secondly, the employer should take privacy considerations into account. If a criminal history check is to be conducted, the applicant should be informed from the outset about the police check and the timing of when this will occur. Employers also need to ensure that the information collected from the police check is only seen by the appropriate person(s), and that this information is used, stored and destroyed in an appropriate manner.

What can employers do with information obtained from a police check?

When a criminal police check is conducted and a criminal history is noted, the applicant must be granted a right of reply. This gives applicants the opportunity to discuss with potential employers the facts of what happened or dispute the information if they claim it is incorrect. 

It can be tricky for employers when the outcome of a police check is unsatisfactory. An employer should consider the circumstances surrounding the criminal history including:

·         The relevance of the criminal history in relation to the position.

·         The age and nature of the offence(s).

·         Whether the applicant was convicted or found guilty and the severity of any penalty applied

·         The age of the applicant at time of the offence(s).

Lessons for Employers

First and foremost, consider whether a police check is necessary for the position.  If a criminal history comes up, be mindful that this is not a barrier to successful employment.  

Questions to ask include:

·         Will this affect the applicant’s ability to perform the inherent requirements of the job?

·         Does the company have a policy on employing people with a criminal history?

·         Is the information you have collected accurate? Have you given the applicant a chance to reply?

·         Have you complied with anti-discrimination and equal employment opportunity laws and policies?


Andrew Bland



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