14 Separating personnel
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This policy details the processes to protect Australian Government people, information and assets when personnel permanently or temporarily leave their employment with an entity. Effectively managing personnel security includes ensuring departing personnel fulfil their obligations to safeguard Australian Government resources; this limits the potential for the integrity, availability and confidentiality of those resources to be compromised.
Separating personnel include:
Each entity must ensure that separating personnel:
- have their access to Australian Government resources withdrawn
- are informed of any ongoing security obligations.
International examples demonstrate that incidents of insiders compromising resources can occur after an individual has ceased employment. Therefore, separation measures are vital to limit these risks.
Requirements 1 and 2 apply to all personnel; this includes security cleared personnel, non-security cleared personnel, contractors and third party individuals. Requirement 3 applies more broadly and in certain circumstances. Requirement 4 applies to security cleared personnel.
Prior to personnel separation or transfer, entities must:
On separation or transfer, entities must remove personnel's access to Australian Government resources, including:
Where it is not possible to undertake required separation procedures, entities must undertake a risk assessment to identify any security implications.
Following the separation of security cleared personnel:
Managing security risks relating to separating personnel relies on entities:
- identifying risks, see Sharing relevant information and Risk assessments
- reminding personnel of their ongoing security obligations, see Ongoing obligations and security debriefs
- ensuring access to entities resources is withdrawn for separating personnel, see Withdrawal of access to Australian Government resources
- sharing relevant details of the separation with other entities, including vetting agencies, see Sharing relevant information.
The PSPF policy: Management structures and responsibilities requires entities to develop and use procedures that ensure relevant security policy or legislative obligations are met. In line with that requirement, the Attorney-General's Department recommends entities have procedures for managing personnel security during separation. These procedures will vary depending on the personnel being separated, their access to sensitive and security classified resources and the entity's assessment of the security risk.
Sharing relevant information
Requirement 1a mandates that the entity's Chief Security Officer, or relevant security advisor, is notified of any proposed cessations of employment resulting from misconduct (eg termination for cause or resignations following concerning conduct). The Attorney-General's Department recommends that any security measures for staff whose employment has been terminated are based on a risk assessment. Security measures for high-risk personnel may include:
- immediate suspension of duties
- immediate removal of all access to entity systems and facilities
- escorting the person from the premises.
If separation is the result of an incident (or if an incident is uncovered during the separation process), advise other affected entities if their interests or security arrangements could be affected. This is consistent with the PSPF policy: Reporting on security that requires entities to report on security each financial year to other entities whose interest could be affected.
Sharing information on transfer
Requirement 1c mandates that when personnel are transferring to another entity, the losing entity must provide the gaining entity with relevant security information. Relevant security information includes the outcome of pre-employment screening checks and any periodic employment suitability checks, as well as concerns that were mitigated as part of the employment screening process. The Attorney-General's Department recommends that entities recognise pre-employment screening and any periodic employment suitability checks already conducted by the losing entity where they meet all entity requirements. For guidance, see the PSPF policies: Eligibility and suitability of personnel and Ongoing assessment of personnel.
Informing relevant authorised vetting agencies
Requirement 4ai mandates that entities advise the relevant authorised vetting agency of the separation or transfer of personnel who hold an Australian Government security clearance. This includes advising the authorised vetting agency that sponsorship has been withdrawn from the security clearance and, where it is known that an individual is transferring to another Australian Government entity, the details of the transfer. Requirement 4aii mandates that entities advise the vetting agency of any identified risks or security concerns associated with the separation, for example where:
- the individual's employment or contract is terminated for cause
- the individual was subject to a code of conduct investigation, whether completed or not
- the individual departed without a security debrief
- there are outstanding security issues, including any risks or issues identified through a risk assessment conducted in accordance with Requirement 3.
Security concerns and risks
Requirement 1d mandates that entities identify and report any security concerns to ASIO (security is defined in the in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979). An example of where this may be particularly relevant is when separating personnel do not adhere to requirements of this policy (eg those departing without having a security debrief). The Attorney-General's Department recommends that entities provide personnel with an opportunity to confidentially express any security concerns relating to procedures or colleagues prior to separation.
Ongoing obligations and security debriefs
Prior to separation, Requirement 1b mandates that entities debrief separating personnel who have access to sensitive or security classified information. This may include caveated and compartmented information where additional briefing requirements apply. The Sensitive Material Security Management Protocol (SMSMP) sets out the protection and handling requirements for caveated information. The SMSMP is available to entity security advisors.
Requirement 1b mandates that entities advise separating personnel of their continuing obligations under the Crimes Act 1914, Criminal Code Act 1995 and other relevant legislation, and obtain the person's acknowledgement of these obligations. This acknowledgement helps safeguard Australian Government resources and limit the potential for the integrity, availability and confidentiality of sensitive or security classified information to be compromised.
The Attorney-General's Department recommends that entities remind all personnel of their contact reporting responsibilities. These include reporting any contacts from former colleagues who show a suspicious, persistent or unusual interest in their work or that of the entity. This also applies where personnel are travelling overseas.
Withdrawal of access to Australian Government resources
The core PSPF requirement on separating personnel mandates that entities ensure separating personnel have their access to Australian Government resources withdrawn. Requirement 2 highlights the importance of removing access to both physical facilities and ICT systems, including any special access arrangements and non-standard ICT systems (eg administrator access, remote access, ASNET, TS networks).
The Attorney-General's Department recommends entities consider the sequencing of withdrawal of access to resources. Table 1 provides an example of actions for entities to consider prior to, and on separation of, personnel.
Prior to separation
Table 1 notes
i Where entities allow the transfer of ownership of ICT equipment to separating personnel, or where entities allow the use of personal devices for work purposes, the Attorney-General's Department recommends that:
- any business related documents are archived in accordance with entity records management procedures
- entity information is removed
- all entity software applications are removed
- if necessary, the entire content of the device's hard drive is erased.
Requirement 3 mandates that entities undertake a risk assessment to identify any security implications where personnel depart without undertaking required separation procedures. This could include personnel who suffer injury or illness and cannot continue working, personnel who separate while on leave, or personnel who refuse to undergo separation processes.
For personnel taking extended leave, the risk assessment might consider the purpose of the leave, any travel plans, the degree of ongoing contact between the entity and the individual during the leave and whether it is likely the individual may decide not to return from leave. This assessment can inform the entity's decision on whether to apply separation procedures prior to the commencement of extended leave. For guidance on personnel security for extended leave, see Extended leave.
Security clearance actions
Requirement 4 sets out the roles and responsibilities of sponsoring entities and authorised vetting agencies for the separation of security cleared personnel. For guidance on the responsibilities of sponsoring entities (as mandated under Requirement 4a) see Informing relevant authorised vetting agencies. For guidance supporting Requirement 4bi (relating to managing and recording changes in a security clearance status), see Managing and recording security clearance status. See Personal security file for guidance on personal security files (Requirement 4bii).
Managing and recording security clearance status
Requirement 4bi mandates that authorised vetting agencies manage and record changes in separating personnel's security clearance status, including where there is a change of sponsorship.
The PSPF policy: Eligibility and suitability of personnel requires that a security clearance be sponsored by an Australian Government entity (or otherwise authorised by the Australian Government, for example, under an agreement with the states and territories) and can only be sponsored by one entity at a time. Vetting agencies may allow entities to register their interest in the clearance (ie contractors working for more than one entity, or secondees where both the home and host entities have an interest). The PSPF policy: Eligibility and suitability of personnel provides definitions of statuses that may apply to a clearance.
Personal security file
Requirement 4bii mandates that authorised vetting agencies transfer personal security files where a clearance subject transfers to an entity covered by a different authorised vetting agency (where enabling legislation allows). Table 2 identifies Attorney-General's Department-recommended actions to take in such cases.
Actions for the gaining sponsoring entity
Actions for the gaining vetting agency
Actions for the losing vetting agency:
Only transfer personal security files if necessary, for example:
Table 2 notes:
i For guidance on informed consent to share information relating to employment screening and security clearance vetting, see the PSPF policy: Eligibility and suitability of personnel. For guidance on informed consent to share information about ongoing suitability, see the PSPF policy: Ongoing assessment of personnel.
ii Some entities have legal restrictions on the transfer of personal security files. For example, the Department of Defence cannot transfer the personal security files of current and former Regular or Reserve Australian Defence Force personnel and ASIO can only transfer personal security files to other AIC entities. ASIO can only provide a statement of clearance to other vetting agencies. Psychological assessments may only be transferred to another appropriately qualified psychologist and only with the specific consent of the clearance holder.
iii In some instances it may not be possible to transfer personal security files immediately. This includes where personnel are still employed by the losing entity, are under investigation for a security breach or violation, are being revalidated, or are undergoing a review for cause.
Where a personal security file contains a National Police Check subject to no exclusions under the Commonwealth spent convictions scheme, the scheme requires entities ensure any previous recorded convictions are not spent and reference to any convictions that are spent are removed. For information, see the Privacy fact sheet 41: Commonwealth spent convictions scheme.
If the original National Police Check is not shared (as a result of Commonwealth spent convictions scheme requirements), the Attorney-General's Department recommends that the gaining vetting agency request a new National Police Check on transfer of the personal security file. This meets the requirements outlined in the PSPF policy: Eligibility and suitability of personnel.
Consistent with the PSPF policies: Eligibility and suitability of personnel and Ongoing assessment of personnel, where there are concerns transferring personal security files, vetting agencies will advise the sponsoring entity. The sponsoring entity can then make a risk-based decision on providing or continuing access to Australian Government resources.
Transferred personal security files may include information that has been previously collected (eg personal information or copies of supporting information). The Attorney-General's Department recommends the gaining authorised vetting agency not request this information again, unless there are concerns about the authenticity of the documents originally supplied. If electronic packs are used, information may be regathered electronically to populate the electronic record; this occurs at the next revalidation or review of the security clearance.
Temporary transfer or secondment
Entity processes for the sponsorship of security clearances (including associated responsibilities for assessment and management of ongoing suitability for clearance holders on temporary transfer or secondment) need to be:
- flexible to account for the diversity of timeframes and arrangements applicable to secondment and other temporary transfers
- negotiated between the home entity and host entity on a case-by-case basis.
The Attorney-General's Department recommends the losing sponsoring entity (the home entity), in consultation with the gaining sponsoring entity (the host entity) determine whether to treat a temporary transfer or secondment as a separation for the purpose of security clearance sponsorship. Relevant factors to consider include:
- the duration of the transfer or secondment and the level of access personnel will require to the home entity and host entity resources during the transfer or secondment
- whether the host entity requires a security clearance for the position at the same, higher or lower level than the home entity
- whether both entities use the same authorised vetting agency and if there is a need to transfer the clearance holder's personal security file.
If the host entity requires a higher level of clearance or the clearance expires during the period of the temporary transfer, the Attorney-General's Department recommends that the host entity's authorised vetting agency is responsible for the upgrade of the clearance.
The definition of separating personnel includes those taking extended leave. As such, the personnel security requirements of this policy apply, unless a risk assessment determines this is not necessary.
This policy does not define the period of time to which the term 'extended leave' applies. The Attorney-General's Department recommends that entities take a risk-based approach to determine the length of leave that constitutes 'extended leave' by considering an entity's risk profile and any specific risks associated with the position. Generally, a period of three months or longer may be considered as extended leave.
An example of an entity balancing security risks with other desired human resource outcomes could be where it chooses not to apply separation procedures to personnel on maternity or paternity leave, and allows ongoing access to the entity's buildings, but suspending access to sensitive resources and administrative accounts for the period of leave.
Note, the PSPF policy: Eligibility and suitability of personnel states that, where a clearance holder does not maintain their security clearance for a period greater than six months due to long term absence from their role, the security clearance is considered inactive. The Attorney-General's Department recommends that entities advise the vetting agency to change clearances to inactive for personnel on extended absences based on their risk assessment. When clearance subjects return to work, the vetting agency can make the clearance active, if requested, after undertaking appropriate vetting updates.
The Attorney-General's Department encourages entities to include personnel security guidance on the following in their human resources or leave-related procedures:
- notifying relevant security advisors in advance of personnel commencing extended leave, as well as completing risk assessments if required
- considering and managing security issues before extended leave is approved, particularly if it is assessed as likely that personnel may decide not to return. Entities are encouraged to resolve any security issues before the leave commences
- reminding personnel on extended leave of their ongoing confidentiality obligations
- briefing personnel travelling overseas of their responsibilities, including the requirement to report suspicious, unusual or persistent contacts, as well as contact with foreign nationals that becomes ongoing
- advising the authorised vetting agency when a security clearance holder is taking extended leave and requesting the clearance status be changed to inactive
- ensuring recommencement procedures include changing the status of the security clearance and noting that the vetting agency may need to undertake vetting updates.
Find out more
For information regarding separation procedures for contractors, see the PSPF policy: Security governance for contracted goods and service providers.