What You Need to Know About Social Media and Background Checks

Rather than having to rely on an applicant’s resume, references, or interviews to find information, the explosion of technology and social media websites like Facebook has made it easier than ever to learn details about potential hires – and recruiting managers have begun to take advantage. Significantly, though, there are privacy concerns as well as human rights concerns to be considered.

This practice, while becoming more common, does have some serious legal risks, in particular violating Canadian privacy legislation. The current feeling is that the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (or PIPEDA) would prevent that kind of collection of personal information. PIPEDA, a federal law that protects the privacy of personal information in Canada, prohibits a federally regulated employer from using or collecting an employee or potential employee’s personal information without their knowledge and consent, subject to a number of exceptions. The viewing of an employee’s blog and the use of it for hiring purposes would seem to fall under these provisions.

However, PIPEDA does not apply where the personal information is “publically available,” including a publication in electronic form. It is arguable that a job applicant’s disclosure of personal information in a publically available blog post would qualify; however, it is difficult to predict exactly how the exceptions would be applied.

As well, PIPEDA applies only to federally regulated employers, a very small percentage of employers in Canada. While British Columbia, Quebec, and Alberta have enacted similar legislation, Ontario, for example, has not, leaving provincially regulated employers in that province facing fewer legislative barriers to the collection of personal information on the Internet.

In addition, even if the information is publically available on an applicant’s Facebook page, human rights legislation ensures that certain types of information cannot be used to make hiring decisions. While employers cannot ask job applicants about protected characteristics such as marital status, race, religion, and age, this information will often come up in an online search and can be difficult for employers to avoid.

Background checks are routinely performed, and if you have a criminal record it will be revealed. This criminal record can be removed, though, so if you want to “even out the playing field” when applying for employment or promotion, pursuing adoption, hoping to volunteer, become bonded, you should start the process right away by contacting a Client Specialist at Pardon Services Canada to apply for a pardon. Once it is obtained, that criminal record will be sealed so that it is no longer visible. You would also be well advised to review your Facebook, Twitter, myspace, or any other social media site to ensure it reflects you in the most positive light possible.

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