When hiring employees in Canada, background checks are a crucial step. Not only does a background check verify your new hire’s credentials, it can help eliminate the risks of bringing on a potential threat to your company.
But for global companies hiring employees in Canada, navigating the background check process can be daunting. You need to know what's allowed under Canadian rules and laws, how you're obligated to handle and store your employees' sensitive data, and more.
If you're looking for a guide to running comprehensive and legally compliant employee background checks in Canada, you've come to the right place—read on to learn more.
Table of Contents
- Are you legally required to run background checks on Canadian employees?
- Is it legal to run background checks on Canadian contractors?
- What types of background checks do businesses commonly run on Canadian employees and contractors?
- What types of background checks are illegal in Canada?
- When should you conduct Canadian employee background checks?
- The easiest way to run a background check on a Canadian employee or contractor
- Background check mistakes to avoid in Canada
- Frequently asked questions about background checks in Canada
Are you legally required to run background checks on Canadian employees?
It isn’t mandatory to run background checks on employees in Canada, but most Canadian employers do so.
Employers are allowed to request information about job applicants that is relevant to the position, including criminal record checks, education verification, and employment history.
It’s essential for employers to obtain informed consent from job applicants before conducting background checks. It’s the employer’s responsibility to protect the applicant’s personal information and maintain their confidentiality, and use the information gathered only for legitimate purposes.
Is it legal to run background checks on Canadian contractors?
Provided you have the contractor’s consent, yes—it’s legal to run background checks on contractors in Canada.
What types of background checks do businesses commonly run on Canadian employees and contractors?
In Canada, you can conduct different types of background screening, based on a new hire's role. Here are the most common types, and a few other background checks you can consider (more on each one below).
Common background checks
Less common background checks
Social media profiles (depends on role)
Driving records (depends on role)
Here’s each type of check in more detail:
- Criminal record. National criminal record checks are conducted through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Provincial and territorial criminal record checks are conducted through local court searches.
- Employment history. You can contact the HR or payroll departments of a new hire's previous employers to verify their dates of employment, salary, and reason for leaving.
- Reference check. You can contact any references provided by a new hire.
- Work authorization. You can ask for proof that a new hire is legally allowed to work in Canada. This may be proof of citizenship or a work visa.
- Education history. Employers can contact high schools, colleges, universities, and other educational institutions to request graduation date, information on course of study, degree or diploma obtained, and Grade Point Average (GPA).
- Credit reports. Credit checks are not a common type of employee background check, but they are allowed to verify a new hire's identity and background.
- Social media profiles. Employers can look through any public social media information a new hire has posted. They can ask to access private profiles, but applicants are not required to comply.
- Driving records. If a job requires driving, employers can access driving records through a driver's license office to check that the applicant's license is valid and there are no claims against it.
- Medical records. Employers cannot discriminate or deny anyone in Canada a job based on medical information. However, if a new hire requests adjustments or accommodations based on a disability or medical condition, their employer can request they provide a doctor's note.
What types of background checks are illegal in Canada?
- Questions about ethnicity, sex, or age. Pre-employment screenings cannot ask about these protected characteristics.
- You can run a background check into someone’s criminal record, but you’re legally prohibited from discriminating against candidates based on a minor offense (like unlawful assembly or trespassing).
- Unless a new hire is asking for accommodations based on a disability, it’s ill-advised to request a background check of their medical records. That’s because it’s illegal in Canada to refuse someone a job based on their medical history.
The easiest way to run a background check on a Canadian employee or contractor
There are several different companies that can run background checks on employees in Canada, including Rippling, TritonCanada, Hireright, and BackCheck. The easiest by far is Rippling, because background checks are directly integrated into the onboarding flow.
Just enter basic hiring info like salary and start date, and Rippling will send the offer letter and new hire paperwork—and automatically run a legally compliant background check and e-verify the results. See Rippling today.
Background check mistakes to avoid in Canada
- Assuming background checks in Canada are the same as in the US. Canada and the US are neighbors, but the background check process is very different. Canada compels employers to collect the least amount of data necessary for background checks, while the US has a standardized set of data most employers collect, regardless of whether it's necessary for the industry or role.
- Collecting too much data. On that note, it's absolutely vital for employers to note Canada's privacy laws and how they emphasize minimum data collection. This means only collecting the data that's absolutely necessary for you to have for the new hire's role.
- Not getting employee consent. Canada's privacy laws also require employers to obtain a consent form from applicants before beginning the process. Companies must also be upfront with candidates about what data they are using to run their background check, who their personal information is being shared with, and why.
- Not getting the right identification. For certain types of background checks, like a criminal record check through the Canadian Police Information Center (CPIC), the applicant needs to sign a special consent form and provide two forms of ID. This is to ensure that information returned on the background check is about the right person.
- Getting the applicant's Social Insurance Number (SIN). While collecting a social security number for an employment background check is standard in the US, collecting an employee's SIN is not standard in Canada. You should only collect it if you have a specific reason for doing so.
- Skipping the background check. Because of all the different rules and requirements, doing background checks on global hires can seem overwhelming—and it may be tempting to skip it altogether. But background checks are an important part of employee onboarding, and help protect you and your company.
Rippling makes it easy to run background checks in Canada.
Frequently asked questions about background checks in Canada
Are background checks legal in Canada?
Yes, background checks are legal in Canada, provided they are conducted in compliance with Canadian privacy laws, human rights legislation, and other applicable regulations.
Employers are allowed to request information from job applicants that is relevant to the job position, including criminal record checks, education verification, and employment history checks. But employers must also obtain informed consent from job applicants before conducting background checks, protect their personal information and maintain their confidentiality, and use the information gathered only for legitimate purposes. Employers must also ensure that they do not discriminate against job applicants based on any protected grounds, such as race, gender, religion, or criminal history.
What language do you use for background checks in Canada?
For the most part, background checks in Canada can be conducted and documented in English. The notable exception to this is in Québec, where the "Charter of the French Language" protects French as the official language of the province and lays out strict rules for employers—for example, in Québec, all employment applications and related materials must be provided in French.
How do privacy laws affect background checks in Canada?
Canadian privacy laws are very strict and have a significant impact on background checks. Canadian privacy laws even extend beyond Canada's borders—meaning they must be followed by global organizations hiring employees in Canada.
The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is the controlling data privacy law that governs organizations involved in commercial activities and pertains to personal data being transferred across provincial borders or internationally. PIPEDA requires organizations to limit the collection of personal information to only what is necessary and protect personal data with appropriate security safeguards. Provincial privacy laws may also impact background checks if they are deemed "substantially similar" to PIPEDA.
How do human rights laws affect background checks in Canada?
When conducting background checks in Canada, employers must be aware of human rights laws, which prohibit discrimination based on certain characteristics, including criminal convictions. The Canadian Human Rights Act applies to federally regulated industries and prohibits discrimination based on factors such as race, religion, age, and criminal convictions that have been pardoned or have had a record suspension ordered.
Provincial human rights laws protect many of the same groups and vulnerable sectors but may differ in the protection of criminal convictions. Employers must be careful not to use criminal history information to make blanket disqualifications of applicants. They must also ensure that criminal history information is only considered when relevant to the job requirements.
Do different industries in Canada require different background checks?
Different types of background checks are allowed for different industries. The general rule in Canada is that an employer should only conduct background checks that are necessary to the new hire's role—for example, you should only conduct a driver's license check if the role requires driving.
How far back do criminal background checks go?
Criminal background checks in Canada can go as far back as when the applicant turned 18 and became a legal adult.
What are the benefits of running background checks in Canada?
Background checks come with many benefits for employers, including:
- Enhanced security. Background checks can help filter out job applicants who would pose a threat to the company or its employees.
- Protection against negligent hiring. Companies can be held responsible for hiring employees who later engage in public misconduct. Background checks reveal past misconduct, helping mitigate this risk.
- Better hiring quality. Background checks help filter out candidates with discrepancies or inconsistencies in their work or educational backgrounds. They verify that applicants are who they say they are, and that their stated qualifications are accurate.
- Protection from occupational fraud. Background checks protect your company's reputation by helping avoid dishonest and fraudulent job seekers.
Onboard new hires and run background checks with Rippling
With Rippling's Talent Management System, you can seamlessly onboard new hires and set them up for success. Just enter basic hiring info like salary and start date, and Rippling does the rest—including running a legally compliant background check, and e-verifying the results.
Ready to hit the ground running with every new hire? See Rippling today.
Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.