Guidelines for Social Media Background Checks
Have you ever Googled a candidate you’ve interviewed to find out more about his or her background? Or considered checking LinkedIn, Facebook or other social media platforms to find out more about him or her? Stop! If you are conducting internet searches to gather information about potential or existing employees or volunteers, you are collecting and using personal information subject to privacy laws.
As a private company, the privacy of your employees or prospective employees, is regulated under either the provincial or federal privacy legislation. Most business are provincially regulated meaning that the Personal Information Protection Act (“PIPA”) applies. If you are a federally regulated company, such as a shipping or telephone company, the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”) applies.
This legislation was established to strike a balance between an individual’s right to control collection, use and access to their personal information, with a businesses’ need to collect and use the information for legitimate and reasonable purposes.
Personal information included in this legislation includes:
Name, age, weight, height
Home address and phone number
Race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation
Income, purchases and spending habits
Blood type, DNA code, fingerprints
Marital status and religion
PIPA gives the individual the right to see, and ask for corrections to personal information that you may have about them.
Cause and Consequence
It’s important to remember that there are implications for gathering this type of personal information, whether or not the information is publicly available online or is available online with limited access to “friends” or other allowed individuals.
What if you find out that a candidate is pregnant on a Facebook status update? Does that raise the risk of a human rights complaint being filed even if the decision not to hire was based on lack of training? What if you make a decision based on completely inaccurate information? What if you did not obtain the consent of the potential employee for such a search and a complaint is made to the Privacy Commissioner?
Think of the consequences of your actions and the risks you are creating for your business.
Minimizing the Risks
To minimize the risk of improper use and the resulting penalties for this use, it is important to have in place clear policies of when a personal search would be necessary and how those searches will be conducted. The policy should specify what information you intend to look for, including the steps you would take to confirm the accuracy of the information, how you will produce the information if required, and when you will destroy the information that was collected.
Find Out More
The publication, entitled “Guidelines for Social Media Background Checks” can be found at www.oipc.bc.ca
under “Resources for Businesses and Organizations”.
Anne is an Associate at Boughton Law Corporation
where she practices in the areas of civil litigation and employment and labour law. She has appeared before the B.C. Provincial Court and the B.C. Supreme Court.
Anne graduated from the University of Victoria Law School in May, 2008. She previously completed a degree in Oceanography at the University of British Columbia. Anne completed her articles at Boughton and was called to the Bar of British Columbia in May of 2009.