Top 5 Policies to Adopt to Prevent Criminal Record Discrimination

Top 5 Policies to Adopt to Prevent Criminal Record Discrimination

Treating all employees with respect and fairness is paramount to any business. Discriminatory behaviour against individuals based on their criminal record is not tolerated in Australia. Acting in this way can have serious consequences, and you may find yourself contacted by the Australian Human Rights Commission over complaints.

It can be tempting to make a snap decision about somebody after viewing the contents of a national police check. But it’s extremely important that considerations are taken to avoid cases of criminal record discrimination.

To help the process, here are the top 5 policies a business can adopt to steer clear of such matters.

What is a Criminal Record?

Criminal records are more common than you’d expect. Many offences can result in a criminal record, from minor offences to serious breaches of the law.

A criminal record documents all police interactions which incurred a conviction by the court. Records are stored on the Australian criminal database, available to authorities under certain circumstances or at the request of a police check with the applicant’s consent.

What Does a Criminal Record Show?

A criminal record is evidence of;

  • Criminal convictions
  • Prison sentences
  • Findings of guilt
  • Pending matters
  • Serious offences
  • Convictions not considered ‘spent’

How are Criminal Records Used for Assessment?

Criminal records are useful documents of information for various reasons. As well as acting as a record of certified information for police records, they are an essential tool for assessing individuals for employment, registration and licensing applications.

Throughout Australian states, the consensual viewing of criminal records is a must-have for employers and agencies to assess a person. The decision makers can see Disclosable Court Outcomes and decide whether they will impact the person’s ability to do the job.

A candidate may be suitable for a role in terms of experience and education, but certain convictions could prevent their suitability. For instance, a criminal record documenting a child-related offence would prohibit the candidate from working with children.

Overall, it is a healthy and legal way to screen people if the occupation requires it.

Criminal Record Discrimination

Unfortunately, criminal records can come with a stigma attached. At a glance, employers may be put off by a candidate with a criminal record. However, unless there are legal grounds to disqualify a person from a role, companies cannot discriminate against people on the basis of a criminal record.

Examples of criminal record discrmination include but are not limited to;

  • Job refusals on the basis of a record
  • Unfair dismissal from a job
  • Denial of certain opportunities such as training
  • Harassment at work from management or other employees

What are the Consequences of Criminal Record Discrimination?

Criminal record discrimination is taken seriously. If an employee makes a formal complaint, the matter must be fully investigated by human rights services like the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) or the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

These organisations are third parties, and operate independently from the Australian government. However, they have the power to launch investigations and handle matters. You could be taken to court if you are found to have breached the rights of your employee through unfair dismissal or criminal record discrimination.

Unfortunately, it is easy and very common to mishandle these situations as an employer. It can be difficult to interpret what counts as discrimination, and many make quick decisions without thoroughly reviewing the situation. To dismiss a person on the basis of their criminal record must be justified through the correct measures, whatever the reason behind the dismissal.

Other effects of discrimination through a criminal record include the following;

  • Sacrificing strong candidates
  • Diminishing staff morale

Sacrificing strong candidates

One of the great disadvantages of using a criminal record against people is the loss of strong candidates that could be a great fit for the job.

A criminal record does not immediately make a candidate incapable of performing the duties of the role successfully. If an employer sets out with a bad attitude toward criminal records, they may skip through suitable candidates.

There must always be some sort of balance between hiring the best person and weighing out the impact of their offences. Dismissing anybody without a squeaky clean record could mean losing somebody with the perfect skills, who’s offence may be completely irrelevant to the position.

Diminishing staff morale

No matter the environment, employees like to feel a sense of belonging and comfortability within their company roles. Good employee morale is a huge benefit for any business, boosting performance and creating a happy environment for all.

If team members face or witness discrimination from management against employees, it can have a knock-on effect on the overall atmosphere. Any sort of conflict is likely to upset the previously harmonious working environment.

Staff may choose to leave a company based on the negative behaviour of the organisation, and you could soon be left without a team.

Top 5 Policies to Adopt to Prevent Criminal Record Discrimination

If an employer is called out on discriminatory behaviour, or labelled as being unfair, it can be detrimental to the business or company. While you might assess a criminal record in good faith, it can be easy to cross the line without realising it. It can happen to anybody, so the best course of action is to take steps to reduce the chances of it occurring.

1.   Create a policy in writing

Policies are key to keeping business operations running smoothly. Written policies bring clarity, and define the procedures that a business takes. This prevents discrepancies over how to handle certain situations if any problems arise.

Lots of people have a criminal record, and bringing up the topic to employers can be highly sensitive. Some candidates may choose to hide a criminal record to avoid a negative outcome. Written policies ensure everybody is on the same page, and new and existing employees are made fully aware of company policy on criminal history.

It’s useful to include information about how a criminal record will be handled, how certain convictions can affect a role, and why you require the disclosure of this information.

The policy should also clearly state that the the employee will not face discrimination because of a record, taking a clear position on discrimination.

2.   Adopt a healthy complaints procedure

Adopting a strong procedure for complaints and grievances is a good solution for resolving conflict in the workplace. Handling issues internally is the best way to avoid negative public perception as well as investigations from outside sources. An employee who takes complaints outside of the company can have a detrimental impact, damaging your company’s reputation.

The grievance of an employee is an unfortunate occurrence. All processes should aim to treat every individual fairly and not permit any form of bias in the work environment. If an issue arises, having an internal procedure to handle complaints is a healthy way to deal with these scenarios.

With a strong procedure, the employee will be assured that their issue is being taken seriously and that it will be dealt with appropriately. If employees are made aware of this process, it will lessen the likelihood of them voicing their complaints elsewhere, ultimately bad mouthing the company.

3.   Abide by the Spent Convictions Scheme

The Spent Convictions Scheme is a legislation which places a limit on the disclosure of certain offences. It mostly applies to more minor offences, as serious crimes are not eligible under the scheme. Many conditions must be met within a set period of time for offenders to be granted this benefit.

If a person has a spent conviction, it is automatically expunged from criminal records, and will not be released in the results of a background check. As a spent conviction is no longer a Disclosable Court Outcome, the individual does not have to disclose it.

Under the legislation, employers cannot enforce that spent offences be revealed. Doing so is a breach of the worker’s right to non-disclosure. As well as this, the employer does not have the right to assess a candidate by their spent convictions.

The assessment of spent offences is only acceptable where the information is required by law to be disclosed for the purposes of certain occupations. In some circumstances, spent convictions can prohibit a candidate from certain work if there is a correlation between the offence and the tasks of the job.

4.   Be considerate and well-informed

It might not seem like an official policy, but maintaining a fair attitude as an employer is an essential part of running a business or organisation. Taking the time to be considerate and make informed judgements is a strong attribute of any professional in charge of decision making. Not only will it give you a broader stance on certain issues, but it will earn the respect of those who seek to work for you.

Educating yourself on anti-discrimination policies and introducing your own set of policies to the companies business strategy is a positive and initial step in preventing criminal record discrimination.

A criminal record does not automatically make an individual unfit for work. In cases where the nature and volume of the offence does make them ineligible, having the knowledge to know how to handle the situation is key. Otherwise, you may unintentionally invite a lengthy and problematic complaints procedure.

5.   Introduce National Police Checks

Perhaps the most convenient way to prevent criminal record discrimination is to add national police checks to the hiring strategy. A national police check is a criminal record check that can be requested by any party with the consent of the applicant.

The government-issued document is an accurate record of a candidate’s criminal history. As police checks are sourced outside of the company from authorities or accredited agencies, there is no bias to the results.

National police checks help to streamline the employment process. Discovering information about a potential employee before they join the team avoids messy situations when they have already begun work.

Employers should always declare the requirement of a police check prior to hiring. Including it in the advertisement or job description is a good way to keep candidate’s informed. Police checks should only be used if they have some relevance to the position, and this should also be detailed.

Remember that introducing police checks as part of a risk assessment strategy does not grant the permission to discriminate against candidates. The police check is an official document that must be handled with care, and only be used for the purpose of safety assessment.

How to Obtain Criminal Record Checks

Criminal record checks are so commonly acquired that the process is more straightforward than ever. The check is obtained through authorities in the local jurisdiction or through ACIC accredited bodies which provide a certified police check online. Many accredited agencies offer packages to businesses who regularly require police checks on employees.

To obtain the criminal record check, individuals can apply online with Crime Check Australia. Once the application process is complete, a national police check arrives through email (in the post if the applicant asked for a hardcopy). The results can then be shared with the employer at their request.


Many employers have a limited understanding of discrimination in the workplace. To protect yourself, your business and your employers, try incorporating the policies to discussed to mitigate the harmful effects of criminal record discrimination.

A properly managed system does not need to take up too much time or cost a great deal. The benefits will be appreciated should a case be raised against you or your organisation.