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We all understand the importance of conducting due diligence in the business world and, when it comes to choosing employees, it is critical to get it right.

It wasn’t all that long ago that reference checks and verifying a candidate’s employment history (and possibly some psychometric and behavioural tests) was about as complex as it got following a promising interview. These days, the legal implications are significant if we make a bad call on a new hire. In this context, it is worth thinking of a police check as the deciding factor in your due diligence.

Given the importance that rests on the information in a police check, this is parting of the employment process you want to get right. So when is the best time to bring a police check into play?

Understanding the nature of the position you’re looking to fill is the first and most obvious step. If you know you’re filling a role that involves exposure to money or sensitive information requiring high levels of trust, a police check is a no-brainer. Advise candidates early on in the process that a satisfactory report is a pre-condition of employment.

A number of jobs in the transport industry clearly outline this requirement when advertising vacancies. For example, it would be imprudent for a transport company employer to hire a driver with a DUI offence pending against them. A range of sectors, including government, education and allied health jobs, also specify police checks as a mandated requirement in their job advertisements.

If you’re not sure whether a police check is relevant, you can always include a trigger question that assesses the character of the applicant. This question might be as simple and straightforward as, “Have you ever been charged or convicted of a criminal offence?”

In the early stages of the application process, if your candidate discloses they have a record, this is your cue to proceed with a formal police check. Obviously, in some cases, a criminal record is a non-negotiable red flag but, in some cases, it might demonstrate the integrity and character of the applicant. Think about it this way: who would you trust more, the person who discloses a criminal record when questioned or the applicant who does not disclose their criminal record only for it to be revealed later in a police check?

All these issues aside, it is essential that you perform a police check before you offer the candidate the role or give them a letter of offer. Remember, this is your due diligence, and telling the applicant they need to undergo a police clearance is a chance for them to prove their honesty and reveal any criminal history.

There are a number of implications that arise from a negative police check so it is important to be transparent with this process. From a legal perspective, you need to be careful if you’re relying on the police check as your answer to whether you should or should not employ someone. Make sure you have a documented process in place. If you decide not to hire someone because of their police record and they question you about it, you have the whole process as evidence of that decision.

It is equally important to be careful about how you communicate information about the police check with the applicant. You don’t want them to feel alienated or distrusted.

Bear in mind, someone convicted for a crime 30 years ago will have that crime resurface on their police check. Maybe they have matured and learnt from their past mistakes? You need to use the details of the police check and your unique experiences of this candidate to assess whether they are the right person to fill the employment position, criminal history or not.

When you carry out a police check, do not treat the procedure as a ‘tick box’ exercise. You need to think about what your decision-making processes will be if a criminal history comes to light. Will you have a zero-tolerance position? Or will you consider the information disclosed analytically then make a judgement call? Consider in advance your deal-breakers, note the kind of offences that would prevent someone from doing their job, and identify the risks this person may pose to your organisation.

You may not always get it 100 percent correct but thorough due diligence on your part will certainly help to minimise the risks to your organisation and the overall wellbeing of your workplace.

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