Employee screening is becoming increasingly prevalent in Australia. What is employee screening and how does the job-seeker prepare?
Great news: you've got the job. The one you really wanted.
The hard part is over. Or is it? The emphasis placed by the employer on the following words has resurrected the butterflies that have lain dormant since the final job interview:
The offer is conditional upon you successfully undergoing screening procedures
You have heard about certain screening procedures psychological testing, medical examinations, past employment and even criminal checks but have not been subjected to extensive screening yourself. A number of questions spring to mind. Just how much can an employer find out about you? Are they able to use their findings in a discriminatory manner? Are potential employees able to guard against an invasion of privacy?
Essentially, what are the rights of candidates and employees?
Employee screening particularly in a pre-employment context is becoming increasingly prevalent in Australia. Accordingly, questions abound from both employers and employees seeking advice on the legal, practical and ethical issues that frequently arise.
The Centre for Professional Development (CPD) published Inside Employee Screening recently, in an attempt to address these issues. The authors, Joydeep Hor and Steven Andrew, sought employer and union views as part of their research.
The following is an extract from Inside Employee Screening. It reflects APESMAs contribution to the debate, provided at the authors request.
A union view of pre-employment screening
Legal Officer for the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia (NSW) Louise Beard was asked her views on the strengths and weaknesses of current employee screening practices in the Australian workplace.
Her summary includes an overview of what she considers to be best practice in employee screening.
An employee should never be punished as a result of a poor recruitment process. Sadly, however, this is often the unacceptable reality.
I give you a common scenario. The union and the employer are before the Industrial Relations Commission in conciliation proceedings. The matter is an alleged unfair dismissal. The employer turns to the union representative and explains that unfortunately employee x just wasnt suited to the culture of the organisation/the position after all. The union officer responds that this is not a valid reason for termination. Why punish the worker when it was the recruiting officer/s who failed to do their job when interviewing the person for the position?
For this reason APESMA supports those employee screening procedures which have been developed to give effect to the principles of matching the most appropriate candidate with the particular requirements of an organisation or a position. If this is done well, potential problems may be avoided. Employees will also obviously have greater job satisfaction if they are in a position that suits their personality and abilities.
Unfortunately, it is often much easier to support screening procedures in principle than in practice. Many screening procedures are designed poorly and produce unreliable or unhelpful results. Others can be inappropriately administered. Take psychological testing as an example: even the most carefully developed tests can produce inaccurate results when administered by an untrained or inexperienced person, or when used for an unsuitable purpose.
The utility of particular screening procedures aside, the primary concern of the Association is that employees rights can be infringed during the process. This can go so far as to amount to negligence (for example, an employer may fail to observe its duty of care and defame an employee in the course of background or reference checks). The most common complaints relate to derogatory or false remarks having been made, the violation of privacy and the disclosure of confidential information. Discrimination is also an issue that has been raised by our members, particularly where it is apparent that certain screening procedures lack objectivity and incorporate unreasonable and unnecessary requirements.
Given that screening procedures can range from background, reference and medical checks through to ability, aptitude and personality tests, it is difficult to define a particular model of best practice that will be universally applicable. The type of industry will also dictate whether or not a particular procedure is appropriate. For instance, there is a heavy focus on background criminal checks on employees in the gaming industry. In other industries, however, a persons previous criminal record may be irrelevant and, if used against the employee, could even constitute discrimination.
Best practice in employee screening is therefore about reviewing procedures on a case-by-case basis to ensure that certain key requirements are met. It is essential that employers understand and strictly adhere to their obligations under privacy and anti-discrimination legislation. APESMA will also seek to ensure that employers observe their duty of care, particularly with defamation. The best way to do this is to maintain strict confidentiality.
It is also important that employee screening procedures be transparent. Employees should be told exactly what checks and tests would be performed and their permission should be obtained before these are undertaken. Employees should also have the right to access their results if desired.
Ultimately, there is a need for legislation and/or clear guidelines to be established as an authoritative point of reference for both employers and employees. As the situation currently stands, many employees are unsure of their rights and whether they have been treated lawfully in the screening process. Similarly, employers often defend the unions criticisms by reference to the absence of clear guidelines on screening practice and procedure.
Reproduced with permission. For further details on this, or other CPD publications, visit www.cpd.com.au. For specific inquiries regarding your rights, contact your APESMA representative.
From Professional Update – Vol 11 No 1 – February 2001