When you're hiring in Australia, running background checks is an essential part of the process. Not only do background checks confirm your new hire's qualifications, they can also help minimize the chances of hiring someone who could pose a threat to your company.
The process of running a background check can seem overwhelming and confusing. Global companies hiring in Australia need to know what's allowed under Australian laws, including their obligations around handling potential employees' data.
You've landed in the right spot if you need a resource to help you conduct employee background checks in Australia that are thorough and comply with legal requirements. Read on...
Table of Contents
- Are you legally required to run background checks on Australian employees?
- Is it legal to run background checks on Australian contractors?
- What types of background checks do businesses commonly run on Australian employees and contractors?
- What types of background checks are illegal in Australia?
- When should you conduct Australian employee background checks?
- The easiest way to run a background check on an Australian employee or contractor
- Background check mistakes to avoid in Australia
- Frequently asked questions about background checks in Australia
Are you legally required to run background checks on Australian employees?
All Australian states and territories require some form of a Working with Children Check (WWCC) that is mandatory for employees in education, childcare, healthcare, and other fields where workers regularly interact with minors.
While state laws vary, employees are also generally required to undergo Australian Police Checks, which release information about criminal history (with some limitations, including a worker’s right to not disclose criminal convictions 10 years after the fact).
Beyond that, while not always mandatory, employers are allowed to request information about job applicants that is relevant to the position, including education verification, past employment history, and social media checks. It’s essential for employers to obtain informed consent from job applicants before conducting background checks. It’s the employer’s responsibility to protect the applicant’s personal information and maintain their confidentiality, and use the information gathered only for legitimate purposes.
Is it legal to run background checks on Australian contractors?
Any prospective worker or volunteer in Australia, including independent contractors, is required to complete some form of police or criminal history check, so yes—it's legal to run background checks on contractors.
What types of background checks do businesses commonly run on Australian employees and contractors?
In Australia, you can conduct different types of background screenings, based on a new hire's role. Here are the most common types, and a few other background checks you can consider (more on each one below).
Common background checks
Less common background checks
Working with children
Social media profiles
Here’s each type of check in more detail:
- Criminal record. Australian employers can conduct several types of criminal background checks. The Australian Federal Police conducts National Police Checks that reveal potential employees’ past criminal history. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) also oversees the Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check, which reveals disclosable charges and convictions.
- Working with children. Per Australia’s Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012, WWCCs are compulsory for an employee to be qualified to interact with children.
- Employment history. You can contact the HR or payroll departments of a new hire's previous employers to verify their dates of employment, salary, and reason for leaving.
- Reference check. You can contact any references provided by a new hire and ask about job performance in their previous employment.
- Work authorization. Australian employers can use Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) checks to verify whether a new hire is legally allowed to work in the country. VEVO checks can only be used for foreign employees and not Australian citizens.
- Education history. Employers can contact high schools, colleges, universities, and other educational institutions to request graduation date, information on course of study, and degree or diploma obtained.
- Credit reports. Credit score checks are often mandatory for employees working in finance to verify credit history and outstanding debts. In other fields, they’re less common, but can be used to confirm a new hire’s identity.
- Social media profiles. Employers can look through any public social media information a new hire has posted. They can ask to access private profiles, but applicants are not required to comply.
- Medical records. Employers cannot discriminate or deny anyone in Australia a job based on medical information. However, if a new hire requests adjustments or accommodations based on a disability or medical condition, their employer can request they provide a doctor's note.
- Civil check. Employers can verify whether a new hire has been a part of any civil litigation.
What types of background checks are illegal in Australia?
- All Australian states and territories have a “crime-free period,” that prohibits the disclosure of criminal history after 10 years (provided there were no other offenses since).
- Background checks need to comply with Australian anti-discrimination law, which means not screening for protected attributes like race, religion, and disability.
- Employers also need to ensure they’re complying with the Australian Privacy Act. This means background checks should only collect information relevant to assess an employee’s suitability for a job (and not gather any sensitive personal information). Additionally, you have to ensure you don’t share the information with third parties uninvolved in your company’s hiring process.
When should you conduct Australian employee background checks?
Australian employee background checks should be conducted as part of the pre-employment screening process, typically after a conditional offer of employment has been made to a job applicant.
Employers should also provide written notice to the job applicant that a background check will be conducted and obtain their written consent.
The easiest way to run a background check on an Australian employee or contractor
There are several different companies that can run background checks on employees in Australia, including Rippling, Checked Australia, and GoodHire.
The easiest by far is Rippling because background checks are directly integrated into the onboarding flow. Just enter basic hiring info like salary and start date, and Rippling does the rest:
- Send the offer letter and new hire paperwork
- Automatically run a legally compliant background check and e-verify the results
- Add the new hire to payroll
- Enroll them in benefits
…and everything else they need from day one. See Rippling today.
Background check mistakes to avoid in Australia
- Collecting too much data. It’s crucial for employers to mind Australia's privacy laws and how they emphasize minimum data collection. This means only collecting the data that's absolutely necessary for you to have for the new hire's role.
- Not allowing the prospective hire to access the data. If a job applicant who underwent a background check wants to see what information was uncovered, it must be provided.
- Not getting applicant consent. Australia's privacy laws also require employers to obtain consent from applicants before beginning the process. Companies must also be upfront with candidates about what data they are using to run their background check, who their personal information is being shared with, and why.
- Skipping the background check. A successful employee screening process guarantees you hire an honest candidate most suitable for your role.
While the process can seem complicated, Rippling makes it easy to run background checks in Australia.
Frequently asked questions about background checks in Australia
Are background checks legal in Australia?
Yes, background checks are legal in Australia, provided they are conducted in compliance with Australian privacy laws, anti-discrimination legislation, and other applicable regulations.
Employers are allowed to request information from job applicants that is relevant to the job position, including criminal record checks, education verification, and employment history checks. But employers must also obtain informed consent from job applicants before conducting background checks, protect their personal information and maintain their confidentiality, and use the information gathered only for legitimate purposes. Employers must also ensure that they do not discriminate against job applicants based on any protected grounds, such as race, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, or marital status.
How do privacy laws affect background checks in Australia?
Australia’s Privacy Act outlaws the excessive collection, use, and disclosure of sensitive personal information. In order to adhere to Australia’s privacy protections during pre-employment screenings, you should make sure to:
- Only collect candidate information relevant to the role.
- Let the prospective employee know what information you’re gathering and why.
- Obtain written consent.
- Not share your new hire’s data.
How should Australian employers consider criminal history revealed from a background check?
Employers must be careful not to use criminal history information to make blanket disqualifications of applicants. They must also ensure that criminal history information is only considered when relevant to the job requirements, as people with a criminal record are a protected class under Australian human rights law.
Do different industries in Australia require different background checks?
Different types of background checks are allowed for different industries. The general rule in Australia is that an employer should only conduct background checks that are necessary to the new hire's role—for example, you should only conduct a driver's license check if the role requires driving.
What are the benefits of running background checks in Australia?
Background checks come with many benefits for employers, including:
- Enhanced security. Background checks can help filter out job applicants who would pose a threat to the company or its employees.
- Protection against negligent hiring. Companies can be held responsible for hiring employees who later engage in public misconduct. Background checks reveal past misconduct, helping mitigate this risk.
- Better hiring quality. Background checks help filter out candidates with discrepancies or inconsistencies in their work or educational backgrounds. They verify that applicants are who they say they are, and that their stated qualifications are accurate.
- Protection from occupational fraud. Background checks protect your company's reputation by helping avoid dishonest and fraudulent job seekers.
Onboard new hires and run background checks with Rippling
With Rippling's Talent Management System, you can seamlessly onboard new hires and set them up for success. Just enter basic hiring info like salary and start date, and Rippling does the rest—including running a legally compliant background check, and e-verifying the results.
Ready to hit the ground running with every new hire? See Rippling today.
Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.