Background Checking

Victorian Public Sector – Risky Business!

Yet another investigation into public sector recruitment practices has highlighted gaps, inconsistencies and huge risks!

The report issued last month by IBAC (Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission) into “Corruption and misconduct risks associated with employment practices in the Victorian public sector” is 24 pages of risks from the recruitment stage right through to after an individual has left the public service!

The report details that the Victorian public sector employs 340,000 individuals, many of which have significant responsibilities; yet, recruitment processes have inadequate pre-employment screening measures, such as not verifying qualifications, employment history, criminal & disciplinary backgrounds or conflicts of interest.

Good Character

One interesting point the report makes is that the character and past behaviour of prospective employees should be viewed in the selection process with equal importance to their skills and experience. This brings home the perspective that PeopleCheck has always held; that the benefits of background checking are two-pronged: to verify that the individual holds the skills and experience they need in order to do the job; and also to ensure the employer is aware of any undesirable behaviour or history that might open the organisation or its employees to risk. Verifying the positive and uncovering the negative; and in the process, attempting to mitigate the potential risks associated with both.

Qualification & Experience Verifications

The investigations of IBAC pointed to instances where validation of the candidate’s credentials and work experience had not occurred, the report describing this as a “fundamental and straightforward pre-employment screening step that should always be conducted”.

Background Checking Policies

The report found that some organisations had pre-employment screening measures in place but these were either not carried out, or checks were undertaken with errors.

A background checking program is only as good as the way it is internally communicated and embraced by relevant stakeholders. Getting the program in place is only the start of what should be an ongoing education for all involved – from HR & recruitment to risk & compliance, current employees to prospective. It cannot stay as a “tick the box” compliance function; the value needs to be understood so that internal care is taken to initiate checks where these are required and that these are undertaken with high-quality assurance.

Also highlighted are some of the additional checks often overlooked for inclusion as part of a background checking program in favour of the traditional police checks. Bankruptcy, ASIC checks, credit checks, drug testing and psychometric testing all get a mention by IBAC as measures to “detect potential issues and help prevent misconduct and corruption”.

Some solid advice is given in the report regarding having a risk-based approach to pre-employment screening. Senior roles do not necessarily carry with them the most risk to an organisation. Many junior or administrative roles such as executive assistants or cleaners can provide access to sensitive material in a much less scrutinised role, making a decision not to vet employees in these areas a dangerous one.

A big picture look at the roles of your organisation and their associated risks can go a long way in ensuring that the type of background checks undertaken are appropriate to the risks in the potential employee’s role, not their level or department.

Also uncovered in the course of IBAC’s investigation were risks associated with internal promotion, with investigations revealing that low-risk staff who had been vetted with minimal pre-employment checks had shifted to high-risk roles without additional checks, going on to engage in corruption.  A risk-based approach means that packages of checks are customised based on the risks for each job role and logic prevails that when this job role changes, the gap between the checks initially undertaken and those required for the higher-risk role needs to be closed before that person should be able to operate in the new position. Screening employees is not only relevant at the outset of their employment; aspects such as re-screening and background checking on internal promotion should also be considered.

Pre-emptive resignation features as a serious issue identified by IBAC and various solutions are floated to minimise the risk of individuals under investigation for misconduct getting ahead of a dismissal or black mark on their record by resigning from the organisation. For example the report mentions that Queensland has empowered CEOs to request details from other agencies of discipline history and South Australia is talking about a register to record such instances. However, thorough background checking where references are not obtained only from individuals nominated by the candidate but their actual former managers, as well as factual details being verified by HR/Payroll, would go a long way in highlighting any misconduct or disciplinary action that was in process when the candidate moved on.

Case Studies

It is hard not to hear the “echoes” in this report of that issued by ICAC just earlier this year on similar risks in the NSW public sector, specifically looking at “strengthening employment screening practices in the NSW public sector”. It is unlikely this will be the last time we read of risks that exist where this need not be the case! Background checking is so crucial to any recruitment process, public sector or private, and the case studies featured in IBAC’s report clearly show the risks. From unknowingly hiring a senior manager previously dismissed for serious misconduct who went on to dishonestly award more than $8 million worth of contracts; to electrical work in a prison left with dangerous defects because qualifications required for a role were not held.

Read the report – you will find detailed investigations, shocking case studies and some solid recommendations forged from firsthand experience!

The information contained in this publication is the opinion of PeopleCheck Pty Ltd and does not form the basis of legal advice.

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