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Can a headhunter demand a copy of my passport?

The Question

Is this normal nowadays? A headhunter gave me a letter of offer from a company along with his own letter that asks for a photocopy of my driver's licence, a photocopy of the picture page of my passport, last year's T4, and a credit check. Aren't these protected under the privacy act?

He also wants copies of my educational degrees. Is this really necessary?

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This is in addition to a criminal background check (which I understand, and plainly feel safer that everyone else in the office has presumably had one. But how do I know?)

He flaunts the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act, stating simply that they are complex. Then he gives me the number for a company that does credit checks.

Now, I expect to give my SIN number and criminal check to the employer upon the date of hire, but do I have to give that information and the above copies of the documents to the "recruiter of strategic human capital" too?

What do I do? What do I say? I'm quite perplexed.

The Answer

The simple answer for "is this normal nowadays?" is: No.

In my 14 years in the recruitment industry, I can tell you, this combination of demands from a headhunter is highly unusual, especially since there is no further explanation for why you must provide this information. You are right to put your guard up.

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Prospective employers do often ask for supporting documents from candidates to verify information during the interview process. Asking for copies of your degrees, for example, is not unheard of – I've had many clients over the years who have requested this from their would-be new hires.

Some companies request criminal checks for specific positions – for example, jobs where people are working with children, while others require criminal checks from all of their employees as a general policy.

Requests for personal information are usually related to specific job duties. If your position requires driving from place to place, an employer may ask for your driving record. If you are handling money on behalf of clients, an employer may request a credit check.

Stuart Rudner, co-founder of Rudner MacDonald LLP, an employment law firm in Toronto, recommends politely pushing back and asking why this information is needed.

"My counsel would be to not provide this information, and rather, inquire as to its purpose," said Mr. Rudner. "Privacy laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; they also vary based on public or private institutions, but it would be incredibly rare for an employer to ask for a driver's license, passport, credit check, and criminal check all for one job."

Technically this recruiter is within his or her legal right to ask for all of this information. A company can ask for anything they want to, with the expectation that it is related to the job. However, the ask must not violate human rights laws.

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The prospective employee has the right to refuse to provide the information requested. They may choose not to expose their personal information. The risk for the job candidate, if they don't provide the requested information, is that they may not get the job.

There could also be some potential risk to the employer. "If this employer was challenged in court, he or she would have to show that there is a bona fide need for all of those documents relating to this specific job," explains Mr. Rudner.

According to Rudner, personal information requests shouldn't be applied as a blanket policy to every position within an organization. It should be specific to the job at hand.

Julie Labrie is the president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions in Toronto.

Have a question about careers, labour law or management? Send it to our panel of experts: careerquestion@globeandmail.com Your name and address will be kept confidential.

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