When employers tell job-seekers that they’ll be requiring a ‘background check’, many people assume that this is just a quick check to make sure they don’t have a criminal record. But ‘background check’ is just a sort of umbrella term for a whole lot of different types of information searches that an employer (or volunteer center, or any organization to which you give permission) can undertake.
What’s the difference between a ‘background check’, a ‘reference check’, and a ‘criminal check’?
Generally speaking, a ‘background check’ refers to any services conducted related to screening. This may involve education and credentials verification (did you go to the school you said you did, and did you get the degree or certification you said you did), work history verification (have you in fact worked where you said you did) and reference checking. It can also involve services like SIN verification, drivers abastracts, credit history, – the kinds of things that can confirm you are who you say you are.
The ’reference check’ often conducted by potential employers generally involves a third party or your company Human Resource Department contacting the references you’ve provided from former or current employers to confirm your employment, your role, your responsibilities and how you conducted yourself.
A criminal check in Canada looks for the existence of criminal convictions, and are conducted by local police agencies, who then provide a ‘clear’ or ‘not clear’ result. Specific details of criminal convictions can only be verified with an additional self-declaration form completed by the Applicant or by fingerprint verification submitted to the RCMP directly with a local police service.
What’s a ‘Vulnerable Sector Record Check’?
Individuals working with, or who have unsupervised access to, children or vulnerable adults are often requested to have a VSS (Vulnerable Sector Search) check, typically in addition to a criminal check. The VSS check looks for any pardoned sexual offences. This must be conducted with a local police department, in the city in which the Applicant resides and is no longer available through your third party vendor.
Will I know if my background is being checked?
Yes. Potential employers, or anyone else requiring a background or criminal check, must obtain informed consent waivers in order to undertake any background checking. Typically, separate waivers are required for reference checks (in which you provide the reference names and contact information, and permission to contact those people); background checks (for which you are typically required to provide your full name, date of birth and SIN (if credit/verification is required); and criminal checks (for which you are required to provide specific permission in addition to any permissions you may have given for other checks). Vulnerable Sector Searches require additional consent to serach this database.
Will I know the results?
Background checks: Most employers don’t take the time to share the details of background checks, especially if there are no red flags raised (a potential employer is unlikely to call you to say, “We found out you do, in fact, have a BA from Queens”).
Reference checks: Most potential employers don’t bother to share the results of reference checks – if they go well, they offer you the job; if they don’t, you might never hear why. The best option is to get in touch with the people you listed as references and ask if they’ve heard from a potential employer or third-party reference-checking company.
Criminal checks: Most employers won’t take the time to let you know you ‘passed’ a criminal check, since you already know you haven’t got a criminal record. They may let you know if something comes up on your record that they find concerning.
Vulnerable sector record checks: Need to be obtained from a local police department in the city in which the Applicant resides. Because of the detail involved in these checks, and because they are typically only done for specific employment purposes, you will know the results.
Who can conduct reference, background and criminal checks?
In Canada, any company conducting reference and background checks must have signed permission from the Applicant in question.
To perform name and date of birth-based criminal record checks of the RCMP’s Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) system, companies like Profile must enter agreements with municipal police services, which involves being vetted, licensed, and audited.
Recent new rules from the RCMP further restrict who can conduct checks. For more information click here.