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If you’ve ever secured a job in Australia, you’ve probably undergone a police check before. Employers use police checks to assess the criminal history of an applicant. Armed with that information, employers can objectively evaluate the risk posed by applicants and foster a safe working environment. Police checks are a big deal in Australia. Hence, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (with Australian police agencies and accredited bodies) processes over 6 million checks annually.
From a historical perspective to current trends, this post takes a deep dive into the world of police checks. Read on to learn all you need to know about police checks in Australia.
Many moons ago, hiring was a straightforward process. After finding suitable candidates, employers carry out simple background checks, primarily from referees, to ascertain the character of the new hire. However, it soon became apparent the several loopholes this approach presented. For one, unscrupulous applicants could easily arrange referees that would paint them in a positive light, irrespective of what they’ve done. Moreover, applicants with a severe criminal past only needed to relocate to get a fresh start. However, they still posed extreme risks due to their destructive tendencies.
Hence, the need to objectively assess an applicant’s past became apparent. This was particularly true of positions involving working with vulnerable groups like children and the elderly. All this gave birth to police checks. And today, police checks are used for a vast array of purposes in a wide range of industries.
A police check shows the criminal past, particularly detailing Disclosable Court Outcomes (DCO) and pending charges as retrieved from Australian police databases in all jurisdictions.
Before carrying out a police check, employers have to seek your written consent. That’s the law! After that, you will provide basic information like your name, date of birth, contact address, means of identification, fingerprints (if applicable), and residential address over the past five years. Those information helps ensure that your record is accurate.
When waiting for a police check result, it’s pretty common to feel nervous, especially if the check is for your dream job. What’s more, having a criminal record may even make things worse. To avoid unnecessary worry, knowing what to expect in a police check can go a long way in helping you assess how such information can affect your employment prospects.
Police check results can be defined into two broad categories:
If an NDCO shows up in your police check result, you have no criminal history. It may also mean you have no unspent convictions (more on that later on).
A DCO indicates a criminal past. More precisely, it shows all unspent convictions. Common examples of offences that may show up in a police check include:
✔ Criminal charges like sexual offences, assault offences, violence, etc.
✔ Severe traffic violations like drunk driving or DUI offences.
✔ Finding of guilt, even when a formal conviction wasn’t ascribed.
✔ Served convictions/sentences
✔ Pending court charges.
Do you know that not all records/convictions show up in a police check? That’s right! Common examples include:
✔ Spent convictions
If you’ve read this far, you must have come across the word “spent” multiple times in this post. Here’s what that term means.
A spent conviction does not show up on your criminal record. In most jurisdictions, an offence is considered spent after a specified period elapses from the date of conviction. This is usually ten years for adults and five years for children. Most jurisdictions also insist that the offender must not be convicted of another offence within that probationary period before that conviction is considered spent.
The Spent Convictions Scheme was put in place to limit the hiring discrimination faced by past offenders. Once a conviction is spent, police checks no longer reflect that record. It’s like giving a fresh start to past offenders.
However, note that the Spent Convictions Scheme only covers minor offences. You cannot spend severe offences like manslaughter and sexual crime. These offences will forever show up on an applicant’s police record.
✔ Diversionary programs
Diversionary programs aim to redirect youthful offenders from the justice system through supervision, programming, and support. Diversionary programs aim to prevent young offenders from committing future offences. Thankfully, diversionary programs do not show up in a police check.
✔ Out-of-court settlements
If you could resolve an offence outside of court, such settlements will not reflect on a police check.
✔ Overseas convictions
The Australian police check is a national check. Hence, it doesn’t reflect offences committed overseas. Employers have to carry out an international police check to get information on overseas convictions.
Suppose you were charged with an offence, but the court determines you’re not guilty or finds your case inconclusive. In that case, such information will not reflect in a police check.
Penalties/convictions imposed by bodies other than the Australian courtPenalties from professional institutions/bodies do not show up in a police check.
Police checks are used for a wide variety of purposes. Some of which include:
✔ Employment checks
This is the most extensive use of police checks in Australia. That’s why this article has so far focused on this purpose. Employers need to assess the criminal past so they can identify red flags that may threaten workplace safety.
✔ Probity checks
A probity check is crucial when assessing an individual for the task at hand. For instance, adopting parents must be upright. A police check can help give insight into their integrity. Board membership, business partnerships, financial duties, and taking public office may also require probity checks.
✔ Licensing checks
When seeking most licences in Australia, one essential requirement is a police check. This is perfectly understandable, given that licences should only be given to people who meet a specific standard of character. For instance, individuals with finance-related convictions may use their licence for unscrupulous dealing. Licensing bodies need a way to filter out risky applicants - and a police check can give invaluable insight.
✔ Accreditation by professional bodies
Professional bodies have a responsibility to ensure members are of good moral standards. A police check can give insight into that. For example, a national police check is required for Australian teachers before joining the Australian Professional Teachers Association.
Police checks have been on the rise over the past decade for a good reason - they aid employers in making the best hiring decisions. Some of the benefits of police checks include:
✔ Identity confirmation
The hiring manager must ensure that new hires are who they claim to be. With a police check, issues like mistaken identity, forgery, and manipulation of personal data are unlikely to go undetected. While the primary purpose of a police check is not to verify an applicant’s identity, it can provide helpful information.
✔ Maintain workplace safety
Employers are responsible for maintaining a safe working environment. Employees with violent tendencies can pose a safety risk to others. What’s more, employees with a history of sexual offences will make for an unsafe working environment. With a police check, employers can screen out applicants likely to engage in dishonourable behaviour and threaten workplace safety.
✔ Theft reduction
According to Australian Federal Police statistics, Australian businesses lose up to $1.5 billion annually due to workplace theft. Employers cannot know if a new hire will steal into the future. However, with a police check, they can understand if a potential hire has been convicted of theft in the past. With that information, they can limit their exposure to workplace theft.
✔ Maintain the company’s reputation
For any organisation to thrive, its employees must be good ambassadors worthy of emulation. It only takes one bad employee to mar a company’s reputation. Think about it: How confident will you be in a bank if it comes to light that the manager has been involved in significant embezzlement? Not very sure, right? Employers are acutely aware of that. A police check helps to improve their chances of hiring those that will uphold the company’s reputation.
✔ Decreased liability
In many instances, carrying out a police check is a legal requirement, especially when the role involves working with vulnerable groups. Failure to comply can lead to severe legal consequences and hefty fines.
Due to the immense benefits of police checks, savvy employers have turned police checks into a routine exercise. That way, they can keep up-to-date with the criminal history of their employees.
Despite the immense benefits of police checks, employers cannot use police checks discriminatorily. Australian law stipulates that employers can only deny an applicant a position if their criminal record powerfully highlights their unsuitability for the role. When this is not the case, this is considered discrimination.
For example, refusing employment to an applicant because they stole two bottles of alcohol nine years ago - even after establishing their good reputation with later jobs - may be considered discriminatory.
Individuals and employers can request police checks. However, for an employer to request police checks for an individual, they require the informed consent from the applicants. Here are the processes involved:
✔ Select a Police check provider
Police checks are under the purview of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. However, the ACIC works with local police authorities and accredited bodies to provide police check services. An example of an accredited body is the Australian National Character Check (ANCC). ANCC provides an online process that makes it convenient to get a police check.
✔ Fill in the application form.
To request a police check, you need to complete an application form. The form asks for information like full name, contact information, address for the past five years, etc. Ensure you fill in this information correctly, so your criminal records are accurately pulled out. Submission is as simple as clicking a button for online applications provided by services like ANCC.
✔ Wait for the result.
Online applications typically take 24 to 48 hours to process for 70% of applicants. Sometimes, applications are processed manually. In such instances (around 30%), the result can come in later - as long as 10 to 15 working days. Paper applications with the local police typically take longer - sometimes up to 15 days.
The cost of a police check is dependent on several factors. One major factor is the Police Checking Service you’re using. For example, the base cost for a Police Check at ANCC is $48.90 (forty-eight dollars and ninety cents).
While a police check doesn’t technically expire, it only provides information on your criminal history until the check is conducted. That’s why a police check is called a point-in-time check. Hence, it is up to the employer to decide what duration is acceptable. Most employers consider a police check older than three months to be obsolete. Hence, depending on the timing of the job, you might require a new police check.
Police checks provide information on the criminal history of a person. From employment checks to accreditation, police checks are valuable for various reasons. They provide insight into the suitability of applicants for a position. Little wonder police checks have gained greater adoption across several Australian industries. With the rise of online National Police Check Services like ANCC, getting a police check is inexpensive and fast like never before.
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