Nine To Five

I don’t want to comply with my company’s background check

Special to The Globe and Mail

Nine To Five (Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)

THE QUESTION

I’ve worked for more than 15 years for a U.S.-based public company, which recently implemented a policy that all new hires must undergo a criminal background check. Now it says all employees must undergo a background check annually. It’s framed as a request, but since I said I don’t want to participate, several levels of management have spoken to me about getting it done. Initially the company said failure to comply might result in employees not being involved in certain government contract work.

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I do not have a criminal record, but I have serious objections to this. I don’t want this confidential personal information held by a third party and I find it to be an intrusion on my privacy. They say I’m the only person (of several hundred employees) who won’t comply. Surely there are limits to what an employer can request?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Heather Faire

Human resources executive, Atlanta

Of course, there are limits to what a company can request of its employees. Your employer must comply with applicable federal, provincial and local employment laws. To be sure it is not infringing on your legal rights, do some research. Check employment-law websites or consult a legal professional. Then it is your choice what you want to do in response to what you learn.

It could be that your company is not breaking any laws and is implementing background checks to protect itself and its employees from workplace violence, theft and vandalism. Not having policies and practices to prevent such problems can leave companies and their workers exposed.

Even if your company is not violating your legal rights, this does not diminish your lack of comfort. Any policy or practice a company chooses to put in place, serves to help shape its culture. It is a delicate balance between using only the law to develop workplace policy and practice and creating an atmosphere of trust, where employees can be themselves and do their best. Your company may not be violating your legal rights, but it might be building a culture and environment that is not suitable for you, one where you feel intruded upon or pressured.

The good news is that again, you choose. You can stay at your current company and continue to experience the stress you feel by not complying with the request. You can comply, and end the pressure. Or you can leave your company and work somewhere else. Figure out which is most beneficial for you and make your decision.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Zuleika Sgro

Human resources partner, talent manager, Questrade.com, Toronto

These types of background checks will likely become standard across organizations providing services to others, such as professional consulting services, and within the financial industry. I recommend you take the following steps:

First, get information on the official policy and speak to HR directly about your concerns to understand the rationale for these checks.

Next, review the consent form you would be required to sign for the background check. It will provide information about how and where your information is being disclosed.

Third, ask your manager/HR what the process is for those who refuse the request. In recruitment, it is likely to be a condition of employment; but for existing employees there may be steps you can take to proceed with another type of compliance guideline.

Finally, ask your manager/HR what has occurred in the business for these types of checks to be implemented; for example, is it a requirement of certain customers?

You can also refer to the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act to understand the guidelines your employer must follow to secure your personal information.

Many employers initiate these types of background checks as a safeguard for their customers and requirements set out by those they do business with. While I understand your concern about your information and privacy, these policies are typically initiated for the greater protection of the firm’s integrity, not to make you feel uncomfortable.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns here.

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