Checking it twice: the importance of pre-employment and reference checking in recruitment

The applications have closed, the interviews are conducted and you think you have your ideal candidate– but HR tells you that you cannot make an offer until pre-employment and reference checking is conducted.

For some, pre-employment and reference checking may be considered a needless step which creates additional administrative burden – particularly when an employer has their candidate ready and able to start. However, conducting pre-employment and reference checks may turn out to be the most important part of the recruitment process, particularly for senior positions.

What are pre-employment checks?

Pre-employment checks typically include reference checks, confirming a statement of service, pre-employment medicals, working with children clearance checks, qualification checks and/or criminal history checks.

The purpose of the pre-employment check is to confirm claims made by a candidate in their resume or interview and to ensure that the candidate can fulfil the inherent requirements of a position.

Reference and qualification checks involve confirming the candidates’ employment history, their qualifications or professional memberships. To confirm employment history, contact should be made with the candidate’s previous employer to confirm their position and length of employment. Similarly, to check qualifications, originals or certified copies of certificates or transcripts should be obtained. Where this cannot be done, the veracity of qualifications can be checked with the provider (such as a university or training organisation).

These simple measures can be crucial, as was found to be the case in NSW in 2017 when it was discovered that an individual had stolen medical qualifications and fraudulently posed as a doctor in a number of different NSW hospitals. In July 2017 the Independent Inquiry by the Ministry of Health found that had there been greater scrutiny of the individual’s resume and written references, the fraud may have been detected.

Pre-employment checks also extend to pre-employment medical examinations. Employers need to ensure that the candidate is able to perform the inherent requirements of the role without risk of injury to themselves or their fellow employees.

When should pre-employment checks be carried out?

Ideally, pre-employment checks should be conducted before the preferred candidate is offered the position. Consent should be obtained before any check is carried out, including before contacting referees.

The type of checks to be conducted will depend on the position being recruited – for example a criminal record history check would be advisable if the person is required to work in a finance team.

In some cases, pre-employment checks are a legal requirement. For example, positions requiring work with children require a working with children clearance and a national police check, and the employer is required to verify new employees before they are hired to work. 

The pre-employment check process can determine whether an applicant is ultimately offered the job or may be relevant if there are discoveries made after the employee is employed.

For example, in Achieng v The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by Centrelink [2010] FWA 5174, the dismissal of a Customer Service Advisor was upheld after she failed to provide accurate information in her pre-employment check. The employee did not disclose that she went by another name and that WorkCover NSW had brought fraud proceedings against her. FWA (now the FWC) held that the employee had concealed the use of her pseudonym and was “patently dishonest” in not disclosing the charges.

Lessons for employers

Employers should always undertake pre-employment checks as part of their recruitment process and refrain from offering employment to candidates until all such checks are conducted. Even where a recruiter is used, employers should satisfy themselves by making their own enquiries about qualifications, references or employment history.

To protect against subsequent discoveries, employment contracts should also be carefully drafted to specify that if references, licences and qualifications are not valid, true and correct, an employee’s employment may be terminated immediately.

Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.
02 9256 7500 | sydney@workplacelaw.com.au
Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog.

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