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Do you have to disclose your criminal record when seeking employment?

Having a criminal record can be problematic for people in many ways, one of them being in the area of employment.

If a person has a criminal record and is looking for employment, do they have to disclose the fact that they have a record to the prospective employer?

Generally, they do not. Criminal records are not a matter of public record. Only very few people or organizations can have access to such records. Such people or organizations are: the police, the crown, judges, prosecutors, border services officers and other officials.

However, depending on the province/territory of residence, employers may have the right to ask whether the applicant has criminal charges or convictions on job applications and in interviews. That also includes the prospective employer asking permission to conduct a criminal background check on the potential employee.

Is my prospective employer obligated to do a background check on me?

Most Canadian organizations are not legally obligated to conduct background checks with the exception of organizations that may work with vulnerable people or information.

The federal Criminal Records Act may require certain public service employers to do a criminal background check on employees, especially where the job involves working with vulnerable people or sensitive information.

Many provinces/territories have their own criminal records act legislation, which often mandates that certain employers, for example hospitals, conduct police record checks on their employees.

Even where it is a requirement that a police background check be done on an employee, the prospective employee may refuse. However, if there is a requirement that such a search be done then it’s a possibility that person may not be considered for employment.

Where a background check isn’t mandated for the employer, can they refuse to hire me if I refuse a background check?

They could but there are human rights laws in place, both federally and provincially/territorially, which require employers not discriminate in hiring or employment practices.

However, depending on what industry you are applying to, a criminal record could impede your ability to get a job.

What if my employer asks for a background check right after hiring me?

Many employment contracts today require that the employee who signs the contract agree to a criminal background check. If you signed an agreement that required this, then it will give the employer the right to conduct a criminal background check. 

It’s becoming more and more common for employers to request criminal background searches on prospective employees, and even on employees who have worked for the employer for a while.

Where the criminality took place a while back, you may be able to get a pardon (called a record suspension).

You should also double check whether you actually have a criminal record. You may get a clear criminal record check if you were charged with a crime but never convicted, where you have already received a record suspension or where you were given an alternative sentence, such as community service.

You may also want to consult an employment lawyer to inquire about prospective/current employment and your criminal record, or how to obtain a record suspension.

Read more:

Police Record Checks and Rights-Respecting Hiring

Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario