Tabled on 21 May 2020, VAGO’s Personnel Security: Due Diligence over Public Service Employees examined personnel security and conflict of interest (COI) measures at all eight government departments and the Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC). The recommendations from the audit will see some significant changes to pre-employment screening for contractors and consultants, and existing VPS staff moving within the service.
While VAGO found that policies and procedures were well designed and minimised the risk of recruiting unsuitable employees from outside the VPS, VAGO identified that controls were not working effectively for candidates who are already VPS employees.
For example there was high compliance with police check requirements for new entrants to the VPS but none of the agencies rechecked criminal history while VPS employees remained in a role and only DET and DJCS had any mandatory requirements for internal candidates*. VAGO observes: “This means the ongoing suitability of VPS employees, who may have access to sensitive information or work in high-risk roles supporting vulnerable people, is not checked.” VAGO further observes that this is not consistent with the Australian Standard 4811-2006 Employment Screening.
Similarly, requirements for reference checks of internal candidates were inconsistent with some agencies having limited or no guidance.
VAGO identified that the updated VPS Pre-employment Screening Policy released by VPSC last December is a positive step forward, but recommended that VPSC policy and guidance be consolidated and updated to cover all employment screening requirements.
In response to this recommendation, VPSC has indicated that it will update and consolidate “VPS pre-employment screening policy and other guidance on employment screening, to align with the Australian Standard 4811-2006 Employment Screening” by the end of the year.
Conflict of interest in recruitment was also cited by VAGO as a concern, where it noted that the practice of considering COI at the end of the recruitment phase is “too late”. VAGO recommended that selection panels should instead “identify, declare and manage any conflicts of interest and record this at the short listing phase.”
Contractors and Consultants
VAGO’s audit also reviewed personnel screening requirements in whole of Victorian Government (WoVG) agreements and identified that police checks were only conducted for contractors and consultants when specifically requested by the procuring agency, which VAGO identified agencies did not fully understand.
VAGO’s report expressed a strong view, with up to 3,430 unchecked contractors working in the VPS that “the approach is not working.”
VAGO noted: “VPSC and DTF have started to work together to ensure that, where relevant, the WoVG agreements align with the VPS employment screening policy.” To that end, VAGO’s audit made recommendations to DTF for employment screening in the Staffing Services State Purchase Contract (new contract commencing 1 January 2021) and the Professional Services State Purchase Contract (new contract commencing 1 September 2020). Similar recommendations were made to DPC regarding amendments to the eServices register head contract and guidance. Both DTF and DPC have accepted the recommendations.
It is clear that VAGO is concerned by the absence of pre-employment checks and considers that they should be more widely applied: “Often, the agencies are not properly considering the risk of the role of the consultant or contractor and what screening should be conducted. This means that agencies could engage unsuitable contractors and consultants who can potentially access sensitive information, finances or vulnerable people.”
As a consequence, VAGO also recommended that the audited agencies:
Update policies and procedures for directly engaging contractors and consultants outside WoVG agreements to include:
So what checks are required?
VAGO’s audit makes many references to the Australian Standard 4811-2006 Employment Screening, which it states, provides good practice guidance for employment screening. It is not mandatory but provides a foundation for VPS agencies to develop their employment screening policies and procedures. The Standard seeks to:
For VPS recruitment, VAGO identifies the following checks based on requirements of the Australian Standard and VPSC policy:
For engagement of contractors and consultants under WoVG agreements some specific changes will be made. For example, the PAS SPC starting 1 September 2020 will require security checks to be undertaken by suppliers and this requirement will be featured in Request for Proposal templates. It is unclear at this time what security checks will be required.
The agencies involved in the VAGO audit will be taking a risk-based approach to considering what checks are required for engagement of contractors and consultants outside of WoVG agreements. For example, consultants who are likely to be privy to sensitive information may be required to undertake a criminal history check.
While other agencies are not required to update their pre-employment screening for contractors and consultants outside of WoVG agreements, it would be prudent to consider VAGO’s recommendations and how they may be incorporated into existing policies and contracts.
So how do you get a check?
There are some commercial offerings which employers can use to obtain a range of checks including reference, criminal record, qualifications and right to work in as little as three days. Victoria Police also offer a service including a National name check – applicants are advised to allow a minimum of 10 working days to receive the outcome of a check.
More about Australian Standard 4811-2006
The Standard states that “[a] thorough employment screening process is an integral component of risk management and is itself an effective way of minimising and guarding against a range of potential risks.” It expects organisations to have a policy about verifying the identity, integrity and credentials of any person entrusted with resources and/or assets, including processes to ensure security of the information collected.
The Standard recommends systematic and regular review of positions with particular risk exposures (including the personnel responsible for screening) and also where there are changes in an employee’s personal circumstances.
The Standard states that all employees should be informed why employment screening is being implemented, and how this will impact on employment processes. The subject must provide informed consent to the screening and should be told what checks will be done, what use will be made of information collected and to whom it may be disclosed – and they should also be given an opportunity to confirm the veracity of the information. Should the screening result in an adverse outcome, the applicant should be informed prior to the decision and be told about avenues of appeal.
Some practical considerations
Most of these screening checks require the provision of some personal information. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, processes for verification of identity are presenting some practical challenges such as provision of certified copies of identification documents and confirming identity through virtual meetings or phone calls. Care is required to ensure the security of the sensitive personal information that is being collected for the screening check process. For example, a VPS employee or a consultant’s HR manager working from home may collect identity documents and other information that would enable identity fraud if it were to fall into the wrong hands.
ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard has warned:
These matters are covered in detail in Identity scams spike as card fraud falls for the first time by Tom Burton (The Australian Financial Review, 21 August 2020). The article talks about the ACCC’s identity scam awareness raising campaign, which includes:
A new identity scam podcast series, dubbed ‘This Is Not Your Life,’ has been released in response. It is a parody on the popular TV show ‘This Is Your Life’, contains advice on how to avoid a scammer stealing your identity and features cameos from ACCC Chair Rod Sims and eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.
The five-episode podcast series, ‘This Is Not Your Life’, has been produced by Julian Morrow, the creator of ABC TV’s consumer series The Checkout.
* At DJCS the requirement only applies to those working directly with offenders
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A participant in the UN Global Compact, CourtHeath seeks to raise awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals and the principles of the Global Compact with business and government organisations in Victoria.
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Image used under license from Shutterstock
[Personnel screening, public service, victoria]