On November 1, Ontario implemented new legislation dubbed the Police Record Checks Reform Act aimed at curtailing problematic elements inherent in the province’s background check procedures. Stemming from issues with the existing system, the new law aims to overhaul the way employers access pre-employment background checks and what they include. Previously, a lack of clear guidelines meant police often supplied information for background checks that was irrelevant or beyond the necessary scope of the inquiry. The result was a system in which employers frequently dismissed applications based on a poor report whether or not an applicant was fully qualified.
The new law delineates three types of background checks, graduating in scope and the types of records they include. The most basic level includes only criminal convictions, while the highest level can include information related to suspended records and non-conviction-related charges.
The goal of the new law is twofold: to protect applicants by delivering more relevant information and to give employers the ability to choose the type of background checks that are most appropriate for open job roles. At the same time, the new standards ensure police do not release inappropriate information. Previously, policies varied so widely that the type of data disclosed in a police check could be completely different from one city to another.
Employers in the US seldom worry about such distinctions: even though laws vary somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the information reported on something such as a state-level criminal history report from backgroundchecks.com generally includes the same data, such as offense and sentencing information. Unlike in Canada, expunged results rarely appear on a report, for the same reason these results have caused issues in Canada–they can lead to unfair denials.
According to a report in Canadian Employment Law Today, many applicants previously encountered problems as a result of the disclosure of non-criminal or non-conviction-related information. The report suggests this could include something as innocent as answering questions about a crime committed in one's own neighborhood or calling police for mental health support. Previously, these types of records could have a negative impact on an individual's job prospects. Now. all three police checks will be limited primarily to criminal data only.
Perhaps the most important new provision concerns employee consent. Requiring an applicant to give consent to a background check is not unusual; it’s standard in many US jurisdictions. However, Ontario's new rules require a second stage of consent. Employers must still first ask permission to run the check, but employees will now receive the opportunity to review the records before they go to the employer. At this point, the applicant again has the opportunity to consent or deny permission for the records to be shared.
With increasing attention on both fairness in employment and choosing safe, reliable people to hire, Ontario's new system may soon serve as a model for other provinces. For US-based employers, this news serves as an important reminder to scrutinize the types of reports you order to ensure a complete snapshot of an applicant while carefully following both local and national guidelines for fairness.
backgroundchecks.com provides a variety of products aimed at allowing employers to mindfully expand or narrow their searches, from the nationwide US OneSEARCH to the more targeted metropolitan area report. With the right records and appropriate scrutiny, smart, fair hiring doesn’t have to be difficult.