Canada: Conducting Reference Checks Without Violating Privacy Laws

Last Updated: June 20 2008
Article by Rosalie A. Cress

Most Read Contributor in Canada, September 2018

Reference and background checks are a good way to ensure you have the right person for the job, but they are not always straightforward. Conducting simple reference checks on prospective employees has become complicated by privacy legislation.

Private sector employers in British Columbia, Alberta and Québec and federally regulated employers are subject to personal information protection legislation. This legislation imposes obligations on employers regarding the collection, use, disclosure and retention of personal information.

Even if an organization is not subject to such legislation, Canada has a growing privacy culture and many employment candidates will expect employers to take special care with their personal information. For that reason, all employers are well-advised to take the developing privacy laws into account in all their employment practices, including reference checking.

Collection, Use and Disclosure

Under personal information protection legislation, consent is generally required prior to collecting or disclosing a person's personal information. This includes collecting, using or disclosing an opinion about the person. However, in British Columbia and Alberta, "employee personal information" is treated differently.

Alberta and British Columbia's Personal Information Protection Acts (PIPA) allow employers to collect, use or disclose "employee personal information" without the consent of the employee or prospective employee if reasonable for the purposes of establishing, managing or terminating an employment relationship.

Accordingly, when conducting a reference check, the prospective employer does not need the applicant's consent. However, the prospective employer must:

  1. give the applicant notice in advance that it intends to contact previous employers or conduct background checks;

  2. explain to the applicant in advance the purpose or reason for collecting, using or disclosing the information (i.e., to make a hiring decision); and

  3. ensure that the collection and use of the information is "reasonably required" for the establishment of the employment relationship (i.e., to determine the job applicant's suitability for the position).

Although consent from the applicant is not required for reference checks, a prospective employer may still wish to obtain written consent, especially if the prospective employer intends to contact previous employers who are not listed as referees.

If an applicant lists a former employer as a referee, then he or she has implicitly consented to that former employer disclosing his or her employee personal information to the prospective employer. However, if a former employer is not listed as a referee, then that former employer may be in breach of PIPA if it discloses the applicant's employee personal information without consent.

For this reason, it may be prudent to get an applicant's consent up front to contact persons other than those listed by the applicant as references. This consent could be requested on the job application form.

Handling the Reference Information

Once the personal information has been collected, used or disclosed in the hiring process, all other requirements of PIPA apply to that information, including:

  1. making reasonable efforts to ensure the personal information collected is accurate and complete,

  2. making reasonable security arrangements to protect the collected reference information from unauthorized use, disclosure, or destruction; and

  3. retaining information used to make a decision for at least one year after the use so that the applicant has a reasonable opportunity to obtain access.

Access to Reference Information

Although there are some exceptions, an applicant is generally entitled pursuant to PIPA to:

  1. access his or her personal information under the control of the prospective employer;

  2. information about the ways in which his or her personal information has been and is being used by the prospective employer; and

  3. the names of individuals and organizations to whom the personal information has been disclosed.

General Tips

Here are some final tips to keep in mind when conducting reference or background checks:

  1. Ensure you are not violating human rights legislation — Pursuant to human rights legislation, employers are restricted from basing hiring decisions on prohibited grounds such as race, creed, ethnic origin and criminal record. Information related to these grounds may be exposed in a background or reference check, which will put the prospective employer at risk for a human rights complaint. To minimize the risk, develop a list of questions in advance that avoid collecting this type of information.

  2. Consider the timing of the check — Because you always risk learning information about a prohibited discriminatory ground in a reference check, consider performing the reference check only after a conditional offer of employment has been made to the candidate.

  3. Keep good notes — Record the information requested and provided during reference checks and retain those notes in an employee's file or for at least one year for individuals not hired.

  4. Always follow through — If you make an offer of employment conditional on a positive reference check, do not allow the employee to start work until the results of all reference checks have been received and reviewed. If you cannot wait for the results, consider inserting a clause into the employment contract that gives you the ability to terminate the employee's employment for cause in the event that the results of the reference check are not satisfactory.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions