Pre-employment screening: Conducting criminal background checks

It is always important to ensure you are hiring the best candidate for the job.  For certain positions you may want to screen your final candidates with a criminal background check but the question is do you really need to?

Should I do a criminal background check on my next hire?

  • Pre-hiring background checks in Canada are permissible.  However, criminal background checks can raise human rights and invasion of privacy issues for employers.  For most positions, a prior employment check will be sufficient to pre-screen a prospective employee.
  • To obtain a criminal background check, you must first be able to establish that there is a valid occupational requirement for doing so.  The job application and/or conditional offer must clearly state the check is necessary as part of the position sought.   

You must always obtain written consent before doing any kind of criminal background check on a prospective employee.

It is illegal to single out a particular candidate for a background check, so it is always best to perform a background check only after a job offer has been presented. 

PLEASE NOTE: Employers are legally entitled to ask job applicants about convictions under the Canadian Criminal Code for which they have not been pardoned.  They can also ask about convictions for provincial offences such as speeding or securities violations.  This is not the same as a criminal background check.

Criminal background checks can be performed by private investigators or the RCMP.  Some will need to involve the Canadian Police Information Centre(CPIC) where certain pardons have been obtained.  The search can be performed based on a candidate’s name, birth date and, for greater assurance, finger prints.

IMPORTANT: In many provinces, you cannot refuse to employ someone convicted of an offence, unless you can prove it has a direct impact on the person’s ability to do the job.   

Tips on doing a criminal background check:

  • Ensure it is a bona fide occupational requirement of the position.
  • Obtain candidate’s written consent to obtain a background check (which may include finger printing).
  • Let applicants know what kind of information you are looking for and why.
  • Start your search early so you have enough time to make your decision.
  • Keep all details on the background check confidential.