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What do employers look for in a police check?

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Australian National Character Check (ANCC) makes every effort to provide updated and accurate information to its customers. However due to the continuously changing nature of legislations for the Commonwealth and various States and Territories, it is inevitable that some information may not be up to date. The information on the website is general information only. The contents on the website do not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal or professional advice. While we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, suitability, accuracy or availability with respect to the information.

If you are looking for a job in Australia, the prospective employer will in most circumstances ask you to carry out a police check when performing a background check on you. Police checks offer insight into an applicant's criminal past, which can affect your chances of employment, depending on the role's requirements. This article delves into the practical details of how employers assess police checks.

To get started, the reason employers typically require a police check will be explored.

Why do employers require police checks?

For any organisation to thrive, it must consistently deliver value to customers and shareholders. Companies accomplish this by offering a product or service of value to the public. Employees are at the heart of this value creation process, and that is why employers are keen on attracting potential employees that will add maximum value to the organisation. This means employees must fulfil all technical competencies.

Moreover, prospective employees must have crucial personal attributes like integrity, hard work, and honesty. All this helps to ensure things are done right within the organisation; the perfect recipe for profit maximisation, staying out of legal troubles and solidifying brand image. In a sense, employees must always be exemplary ambassadors of their company.

Hiring a new employee is akin to bringing a stranger on board from the employer's perspective. Hence, they need to learn as much as possible about the job applicant to minimise hiring risks. Police checks are one major tool employers use to assess job applicants' character. This gives employers the tool to decide whether the applicant is a good fit for the position.

Many employers now carry out police checks when an employee is promoted or changes job roles. With this, employers can ensure that the employee meets the character requirement for the new position. In recent decades, Australian employers have been adopting the practice of recurring police checks – yearly or biennially. That way, they try to stay on top of the character of their employees, ensuring their high moral character.

What employers look for in police checks.

So, when employers ask you to tick that consent box for a police check in the recruitment form, what exactly do they want to look at in your police certificate? Note that the answer to this question will depend highly on the job role. However, some of the possible information employers are trying to glean includes:

  • 1) Indication of Theft/Fraud

From the theft of a pen to more heinous fraud-related cases, the Australian Federal Police statistics estimate that Australian businesses lose over a $1 billion annually to workplace theft - money that could have been invested in developing other business aspects. In worse scenarios, severe fraud cases can wreck a company financially and destroy its reputation.

The proper mechanisms to prevent workplace theft can get convoluted, especially for more prominent companies. That is why employers minimise their exposure to this risk factor by ensuring potential hires do not have questionable money-related records.

A police certificate shows convictions/charges against corporate organisations. If an applicant has been convicted of workplace theft in the past, employers can readily access that information via a police check. Consequently, that can serve as a basis for denying employment to an applicant, especially if it is a finance-related role.

  • 2) History of Sexual Offences

In a survey conducted by Safe Work Australia, one in three people (33%) experienced sexual harassment in the workplace within the past five years. According to the Australian Fair Work Act, any unwelcome sexual advance or request for sexual favours is sexual harassment. Hence, employers have a legal responsibility to create a safe work environment free of inappropriate sexual interactions.

The Australian police check certificate contains Disclosable Court Outcomes, including sexually related offences, among many others. Therefore, with a police check, employers can see if an applicant has a questionable sexual past. Depending on the severity of said offences, the employer can decide if the applicant will pose a significant risk in the workplace.

This information is even more important when the job involves working with children (like teaching) or the elderly (like support roles). In Australian States and Territories, it is illegal for those convicted of sexual offences to work with vulnerable groups like children. Hence, employers use a police check to mitigate legal liability down the line.

  • 3) Prison Sentences

One of the paramount duties of organisations is to create a safe working environment for employees. This means a workplace free of bullying and fights. Workplace violence is a serious issue. That is why employees must weed out potentially aggressive applicants from the application process.

Statistics by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealed that acts intended to cause injury are the number one reason (23%) for incarceration in Australia, quickly followed by illicit drug offences (15%) and sexual offences (14%).

Given that the average recidivism rate in Australia is around 46%, candidates with prior prison sentences may commit similar offences in the future. If such violations are violence-related, employers can decide to employ the individual or not, knowing all the risks entailed.

  • 4) Convicted traffic charges

For roles that will require lots of driving, employers must ensure that employees are responsible drivers. This is because driving-while-intoxicated offences, and other reckless driving-related acts endanger the lives of others, can result in serious legal troubles against the company with dire financial consequences, and even lead to tainting the company's public image.

Thankfully, the Australian Police check contains traffic charges for which an individual was convicted in a court. This provides more information than just a valid driver's licence. With this information handy, employers can make informed hiring decisions in driving-related roles.

Limitations of police checks

While employers consider police check results in hiring decisions, savvy employers use them cautiously because of their limitations. Examples include:

  • 1) A police check is not a failsafe

Australian police check certificate only contains Disclosable Court Outcomes like convictions, charges, pending charges, court appearances, penalties, court orders, and in some instances a finding of guilt with no conviction. This means that an unscrupulous applicant who has evaded justice will have a clean police record. To combat this limitation, savvy employers are now also incorporating other types of background checks in their background check policy to get a fuller sense of the applicant's character.

  • 2) A police check is not predictive

Police check only gives information on past criminal records. While this might provide insight into potential future character, it does not definitively predict the future. This explains why many employees convicted of corporate fraud are first-time offenders.

  • 3) Unfair treatment

Having a questionable past can lead to discrimination from potential employers. Of course, there are some cases where it is necessary and legal to discriminate – for instance, preventing those with prior sexual offences from working with vulnerable groups. Police checks must be used with caution and lawfully.

The industrial relations law is against the unfair workplace treatment of workers based on their criminal record. The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) makes a provision for employees to lodge a formal complaint with Fair Work Australia in the case of unfair dismissal.

Employers should only consider relevant past convictions when examining an applicant's police check. That way, they can evade unfounded discrimination while attracting top talents to their organisation.

How to pass a police check

As a job applicant, now that you know what employers look out for in a police check, how can you put yourself in the best position to pass your police check?

  • 1) Have a clean criminal record

Nothing beats having a clear criminal record. As a police check is a culmination of your past actions, you must try to be a law-abiding citizen.

  • 2) Opt for diversionary programs

If you have an ongoing charge, it is best to speak to a lawyer to see if you can get into a diversionary program or have a sentence suspension under a Good Behaviour Bond. Since your conviction will disappear from your police check after the bond expires, this can help minimise the impact of your sentence.

  • 3) Seek out-of-court settlement

Reconciliation outside the court is better than having a conviction because it does not appear in your police record. You should strongly consider an out-of-court settlement if you have a minor charge.

  • 4) Apply for jobs smartly

Before applying for a job, carefully study the job description to see if you qualify based on your prior convictions. For instance, applying for a teaching job with a previous sexual offence is a losing strategy. While your prior convictions should not prevent you from applying for your desired positions, you must be realistic in your expectations.

Wrap Up

Australian employers use police checks to assess the character of potential hires. When evaluating the police check certificate, employers look out for past convictions related to theft, sexual offences, violence, and other crimes relevant to the role. After analysing this information, employers watch out for red flags that can make a candidate unsuitable for the role.

How can I obtain a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check?


If you are an individual, you can obtain a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check online via Australian National Character Check’s application and informed consent form. The results are dispatched via email.

Business and Enterprise Customers

Business and Enterprise customers are able to sign up to ANCC’s business portal where they can order, manage, track and view candidates’ police check results on their business portal.

Organisations will undergo a process of approval prior to being granted access to ANCC’s business portal for the purpose of police checks.

ANCC sends an invite to the applicant to complete their background check online and handles the application and informed consent form. Contact ANCC’s business and enterprise partnerships team today to enquire about setting up a business portal for your organisation.

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The contents of this website do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal or professional advice.

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ANCC® enables individuals and approved legal entities to apply for a nationally coordinated criminal history check, which is commonly referred to as a national police check. The nationally coordinated criminal history check is valid all over Australia and can be used when applying for Employment, Probity, Licencing, or Commonwealth check purposes. Get discount police checks online. We beat prices!


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