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How do you fail a police check?

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If you've applied for an Australian job before, you've likely encountered that tiny box asking for consent to perform a police check. If you have a spotless criminal history, ticking this box is a thoughtless process. But if you're part of the community with a criminal record, your heart begins to race, hoping that the uncovered information will not hurt your chance of employment.

Over the past two decades, police checks have become a vital tool Australian employers use to weed out applicants with relevant disreputable criminal pasts. But how exactly will you know if your particular criminal history will serve as an obstacle to that dream job?

Bringing in perspective - what does it mean to fail a police check?

To survive in today's business world, employers must employ candidates with the right qualifications and exemplary characteristics. This helps employers maintain a safe work environment for other employees and potential clients. Police checks are one significant way employers take a peek into an applicant's character.

To give an example, hiring a person with a criminal history of violence may pose a safety risk to other employees and even clients, tainting their company's reputation. Moreover, employing a candidate with a history of sexual offences as a kindergarten teacher or school bus driver exposes kids to potential sexual abuses that can have a significant psychological impact for years to come.

Hence, the employer may deem a candidate to have failed a nationally coordinated criminal history check if their conviction details may impact the inherent requirements of the job. To meet this burden, the Australian Human Rights Commission delineates that the employer should:

  1. First, identify the tasks and expectations of the role.
  2. Assess what kind of criminal records impact the highlighted tasks and expectations.
  3. Weigh the individual's criminal record with these inherent job requirements to make a judgement call.

Ways someone may fail a police check

Having a criminal record does not automatically spell a police check failure, but here are some ways to genuinely fail a police check.

✔ Your past conviction makes it illegal for you to be employed.

A police check is more than a process employers use to enhance their hiring decisions. In some professions, it's the law. For example, the Working With Vulnerable People Act 2011 makes it illegal for convicted sex offenders to hold a working with vulnerbale people registration and work with vulnerable groups. Employers can subject themselves to legal consequences if they fail to perform adequate background screening for roles involving the vulnerable or elderly. Hence, if the police check of a person applying to a teaching or caregiver role reveals they are a sexual offender, that's an automatic failure.

✔ You are deemed a risky hire by the employer.

Most of the time, employers can quickly tell if you're a risky hire or not. For instance, if you've been convicted of fraud or theft in recent history, employers can deny you employment in finance-related roles. Again, if you've been convicted of violence multiple times, you wouldn't be ideal for a customer service role, given your lousy temperament. In such instances, having these undesirable convictions will be considered a failed police check by the employer.

But sometimes, deciding if the criminal past is severe enough is a grey area. Employers have a judgement call to determine whether the applicant's criminal history will affect that current role. Even after analysing the same job position to bring in some objectivity, there's still some element of subjectivity. That's why different companies have different policies for deciding if a candidate has passed or failed a police check.

In practical terms, if two candidates have similar qualifications, the employer can make the final hiring decision based on the results of their Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check, as the one with a cleaner record may be considered a less risky hire.

Fighting discrimination based on a police check

Statistics show that those with criminal records have difficulty finding a job. While this is justifiable in most instances, it can sometimes be a case of discrimination.

For example, in Ms Renai Christensen v Adelaide Casino Pty Ltd, Ms Christensen was denied employment as a bar attendant at a casino because her criminal record indicated she stole two bottles of alcohol as a 15-year-old teenager.

After Ms Christensen filed a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the casino held a defence that the character of a bar attendant must be exemplary, which wasn't the case with Ms Christensen.

However, the commission ruled against the casino, pointing out that the connection made by the casino was weak. For one, the incident occurred a long time ago. And second, Ms Christensen had held two bar attendant positions after that incident and has proven to be upright, based on her stellar recommendation from past employers.

How to avoid failing a police check

Your best bet to enhance your chances of getting that dream job is to pass your police check. Here are some things you can do that will significantly improve your chance of passing a police check in the context of any job.

  1. Keep a clean record.
  2. This advice is only valid if you've kept a clean record up until now. You want to maintain a clean record, so you're qualified for more opportunities down the line.

  3. Avoid applying for roles you're unqualified for based on your criminal record.
  4. If you've been convicted of a fraud offence, do not have high hopes of getting an accounting or finance job. Be realistic with yourself, and apply for jobs where your criminal record will have little to no bearing.

  5. Do not try to hide or deny your criminal past.
  6. Trying to hide or deny your criminal past will only make an employer more sceptical about hiring you. Instead, show that you have learned from your past mistakes and become a better person. That may help tilt the scale in your favour.


Australian Human Rights Commission (HREOC Report No. 20) -

Victorian Public Sector Commission (Guidance for conducting police checks) -

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