This case study looks at the possible consequences of failing to make the appropriate pre-employment checks when appointing a new staff member. Other themes include:

  • acting on information to conduct a security investigation

  • identifying and managing poor performance


Scenario – what happened

In 2013, Joseph Hikairo Barlow, known as Joel Barlow, was sentenced to 14 years jail for defrauding the Queensland Health Board. Between 2007 and 2011, Barlow made 65 fraudulent grant payments to companies wholly owned by him, totalling more than Aus $16.6 million, including a single fraudulent payment of Aus $11 million.

Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) found that, from the outset, Barlow was a high risk employee. He had a criminal record, was wanted for questioning in New Zealand for fraud, and had fabricated his CV and his heritage as a Tahitian prince.

Barlow had been chronically unreliable as an employee, with a poor attendance record. He kept erratic work hours that were not recorded on timesheets and took large amounts of leave that was not properly recorded. Barlow’s work was of poor quality and not to the standard expected of someone of his seniority level. Other staff had to complete or re-do his tasks.

Despite working as a finance manager for a hospital board, Barlow enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in a $5.65 million dollar luxury apartment, mixing with Brisbane high society and claiming to be a member of the Tahitian royal family. He claimed to be invited to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in April 2011.

Barlow later admitted that he actively intended to defraud Queensland Health. The CMC found that the Health Board had failed to check Barlow’s qualifications and references as part of the employment process.

When a complaint was made to the CMC about Barlow’s past behaviour in New Zealand and his activities as the health board finance manager, it was referred to the QHB but was not investigated.

It was later revealed that Barlow did not have the Commerce degree from Victoria University that he claimed, and neither were his work references genuine. Both of these facts would have been easily discovered had proper pre-employment checks been carried out, as would the fact that his previous employment had been terminated due to theft.



Lessons learned – what should have happened

Before Barlow was employed, the Queensland Health Board should have:

  • verified his identity and qualifications

  • spoken to his previous employers to confirm his CV and references

  • undertaken a criminal history check in Australia and asked Barlow to supply evidence of his record in New Zealand

Once employed, the Board should have: 

  • identified and managed his underperformance (which would likely have shed light on his inability to do the role)

  • undertaken an investigation when an external party raised concerns about Barlow’s background and behaviour.