Privacy laws are a big deal in Australia, and businesses can't just go ahead and conduct criminal background checks without good reason.

It’s a common conundrum for managers and business owners: you know you need to screen potential employees, but you’re concerned about privacy laws. The last thing you want to do is be accused of breaching them, or worse: discrimination.

It is a tough situation, but there are ways that you can find out what you need to know, without landing yourself in a legal pickle. These are the important facts you need to know about screening in accordance with privacy laws in Australia.

What Is Pre-Employment Screening?

Pre-employment screening is a blanket term that covers a wide range of actions and due diligence steps that happen during the employment process, after candidates are shortlisted, but before an offer is extended to the candidate.

The process includes a variety of possible checks and steps, and may include everything from reference checks to verifying credentials, to more in depth processes like criminal background checks, credit history reports and even medical screening in certain very specific cases.

The screening that is conducted by employers before making a hiring decision is based on the type of position being offered, and can help to show you a broader picture of your favorite candidates than their resume tells you.

For instance, you may discover that they have moved from job to job more than you’re comfortable with, or that they have a criminal history that excludes them from working in your industry.

Whatever you discover, and however extensive your screening is, it’s an essential part of hiring in our modern world, and one that you should not avoid.

First: Get Consent

The most important consideration for pre-employment screening under Australia’s privacy laws is that you must get consent before any screening or background checks are conducted, and that consent must be in writing.

Having a written letter of consent that outlines exactly what you will be checking ready when you interview candidates is a great idea. A good idea is to make it a simple form, and separate to the main application, so that you are 100% certain candidates know what they are signing.

Another good idea is to mention the type of screening required right in your job advertisement, so that candidates are aware before they apply. This way, you can weed out candidates who might not consent before they even apply.

Second: Make Sure It’s Relevant

You will have a hard time justifying your screening under privacy laws if the screening is not relevant to the position. If you’re asking for information that you don’t really need, you might still find yourself in hot water. For instance, if you’re hiring for a position that has nothing to do with finance, and where the candidates will never handle money, you will struggle to justify a credit check or bankruptcy check!

Third: Never Discriminate

There are certain questions that you need never ask. Race, religion, sexual orientation, and most health-related questions fall into this category. They’re almost never relevant, and even asking them could result in claims of discrimination. Ask your HR department what is appropriate, or contact a lawyer who specializes in labor issues if there’s any doubt.

Finally: Share What You Find

Whether you find only great things, and make an offer, or you discover something negative that excludes a candidate, they deserve to know what you’ve found. More so if you find something negative, because they have a right to defend themselves.

Before you make a final decision to hire or not, disclose what your background check revealed, and if there is a reasonable explanation, make sure you take it into account.

 

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