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Can employers ask for criminal history checks?

Getting a job can be difficult when you have a criminal record, which is why many people wonder if Australian employers have a legal right to ask for background checks. There is no clear-cut answer to this question. In some cases, employers not only can ask for criminal history checks, but they are mandated by law to do so. In other cases, the law is a bit vague and open to interpretation. In this article we’ll have a look at both cases, so you can evaluate your chances of landing the job you want.

When are background checks mandatory?

There are certain types of jobs for which employers are required by law to do a background check on all employees.

Take, for instance, the healthcare system. Police checks are mandatory because you’ll be working with vulnerable people, as well as because in a hospital environment people have easy access to controlled substances.

At the same time, people seeking employment in the prison system or the legal system are also required to undergo a criminal history check, and it’s easy to see why. Also, when you’re looking for a job that has anything to do with children, you need to obtain a Working With Children permit, and it’s more than a routine background check you’ll have to undergo.

The same applies for jobs in care homes, where you’ll be interacting with elderly or disabled people, who are also vulnerable.

What other jobs might require a police check?

Australian employers can ask a job applicant about their criminal record if that’s in any way relevant to the job. That’s what the law says, and it’s not very specific.

If you want to work as a security guard, they’ll probably ask for a background check, especially if you’re going to carry a weapon. In this case a background check is relevant.

What about an accountant position? How is a criminal history check relevant? It is relevant if you have theft, fraud or embezzlement convictions. An employer can ask you to submit to a police check basically for any job that might involve handling money or goods. If there’s something that can be stolen, the employer can understandably screen for people with theft offences on their record.

If you apply for a position as a driver, the employer might ask for a police check to see if you have any traffic related offences, including driving under the influence, as this is relevant to the job.

How can I check what’s on my criminal record?

If you’re not sure what offences might be on your record, you can order a background check on yourself, using an online service like the ANCC website: australiannationalcharactercheck.com.au which are generally easy to use and extremely fast. You get the results in a couple of days sent via email.

Checking your criminal record is a good idea if you have old convictions. Minor offences become spent after 10 years, so they won’t be disclosed anymore when you submit to a police check. Basically, your employer won’t know about them and you don’t have to tell them about them.

One more thing you need to know. Your employer cannot order a background check on you without your written consent. That would be illegal.