Strengthening employment screening practices in the NSW public sector

26 Feb 2018

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (“the Commission”) has undertaken several investigations over the past few years that have exposed corrupt conduct in the NSW public sector that was brought about, or in some way attributable to, inadequate employment screening practices.

This report provides a range of techniques and tools that agencies can apply to address employment application fraud. These measures include designing a risk-based employment screening framework, assigning roles and responsibilities for employment screening, improving the quality of employment screening checks and screening non-permanent workers.

Employment application fraud is both costly and common. Typically, between 20% and 30% of job applications contain some form of false information, ranging from minor omissions to serious falsehoods. Undetected employment application fraud can undermine merit-based selection and result in hiring an employee who lacks integrity or requisite expertise for the role. This can have a range of detrimental effects for an agency, including health and safety risks, poorer provision of public services, and impairment of public trust and confidence. Moreover, employees who engage in employment application fraud sometimes commit other acts of corrupt conduct once afforded access to an agency’s assets.

This report recommends that agencies adopt a risk-based approach for preventing employment application fraud and ensure that any screening checks are standardised and justifiable. A risk-based approach involves tailoring the screening to the characteristics of specific roles. However, the roles that require the most screening are not necessarily the most senior or well-paid roles, as a number of relatively junior roles can have considerable risks attached to them. A risk-based approach can also inform post-employment screening, which can be triggered by a change in the risk profile of a role. In addition, re-screening may be conducted periodically or triggered by a change in personal circumstances.

The successful implementation of an employment screening framework requires that relevant roles and responsibilities be carefully assigned. Ownership of the employment screening framework and policy should reside with a specific senior manager. While there should be a single point of accountability for assessing the risks associated with specific roles, both the human resources (HR) and risk business units should be involved in these risk assessments.

Assigning responsibilities for conducting checks on specific candidates depends on whether the checks are to be conducted by agency staff or a third-party provider. HR staff should be responsible for in-house checking but utilise relevant industry-specific knowledge held by hiring managers. Third-party screening arrangements should be carefully managed, both in terms of applying due diligence before engaging a potential supplier and in obtaining evidence of the checks actually conducted by engaged suppliers. Agencies should also have a robust process for responding to red flags that arise from employment screening checks, and assign responsibility for monitoring, reviewing and updating the employment screening framework.

There is a variety of ways in which an otherwise robust employment screening framework can be undermined by poor checking methodologies. Better practice methodologies exist for a range of employment screening checks, including verifying identity, qualifications and employment history, and for performing criminal history checks and reference checks. Additionally, most legal issues related to employment screening can be addressed by obtaining informed consent from job applicants and ensuring that any checks conducted can be justified by the nature of the role in question. Finally, screening-related resource pressures can be managed by several approaches, including outsourcing checks, obtaining early upfront consent for checks, screening only preferred candidates, and utilising workforce planning outcomes to predict when screening demand is likely to be greatest.

Non-permanent workers should be subject to employment screening checks in the same way as those undertaken on permanent employees. The corruption risks associated with contingent workers can be at least as serious as those associated with comparable permanent employees; although, it may be appropriate to reduce screening requirements for a very short, low-risk contingent engagement. While engaging contingent workers has both procurement and recruitment elements, HR should be responsible for conducting checks upon contingent workers; although, this may simply involve ensuring that a recruitment company has adequately performed the agreed checks. The risk that contingent workers with histories of misconduct or poor performance are rehired can be managed via ensuring that agencies have visibility of their contingent hire workforce through effective planning and oversight of contingent workers and by recording misconduct and performance data.

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