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Can an employer ask me if I have a police record?

Question
Can an employer ask me if I have a police record?

Glossary

Clear language definitions to common legal terms. 

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Reviewed: 
September, 2015
Answer

It depends on why they're asking and what kind of information they want.

Asking about a criminal record

An employer can ask you if you've been convicted of a crime that you have not been given a record suspension for. A record suspension used to be called a pardon.

An employer can ask you to get a "criminal record check" from the police. This shows only crimes that you were convicted of in court.

An employer can decide not to hire you because you have a criminal record.

Convictions that usually can't be used against you

If you get a record suspension for a crime that you've been convicted of, in most cases:

  • an employer can't ask about that crime
  • you can honestly say you don't have a criminal record

And breaking a provincial law is not a crime. In most cases, an employer can't ask if you've been convicted of breaking a provincial law. For example, speeding and careless driving are in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. They're called provincial offences.

If you're convicted of a provincial offence, you don't have a criminal record.

Exceptions

But for some jobs an employer can refuse to hire you because of:

  • a provincial offence
  • a crime that you got a record suspension for

The law says that an employer can do this if it's:

  • reasonable
  • necessary
  • makes sense because of what the key duties of the job are

For example, an employer might think that hiring you could put other people at risk. So you might not get a job as a driver if you’ve been convicted of driving offences.

Asking for a "vulnerable sector check"

An employer will likely want a "vulnerable sector check" if you apply for a job where you'll be working with:

  • children
  • older people
  • others who may be vulnerable

The law says who is a vulnerable person. For example, people are vulnerable if, because they are younger or older or have a disability, they:

  • depend on other people, such as caregivers
  • are at a greater risk of being harmed by someone they trust or someone who has authority over them, like a sports coach

A vulnerable sector check includes your criminal record. It may also include other information that the police have about you. For example, it may include information about contact you had with the police even if it didn't lead to you being charged or convicted.

And it will list certain crimes even if you've been given a record suspension for them. For example, it will list sexual assaults.

For some jobs, employers must ask for a vulnerable sector check, for example jobs working with:

  • residents in a long-term care home
  • clients of an agency for people with developmental disabilities that gets funding from the provincial government

Asking about other police records

An employer might ask you to get a police record check that gives more information than your criminal record.

Different police services use different names for these kinds of police record checks, for example:

  • police information check
  • police background check
  • criminal reference check

A police record check may include information about contact you had with the police even if it didn't lead to you being convicted of a crime.

And different police services include different information. For example, they might include information about you:

  • being stopped and questioned by police
  • being arrested or charged with a crime even if the charge was withdrawn or you were found not guilty
  • having contact with the police because of a mental health crisis
  • contacting the police to report a crime

The law does not say that employers can't ask for this information. And it does not say they can't use it in deciding if they will hire you. But if they don't hire you because of this information, they might be going against your human rights.

For example, if you're a person with a disability, it might go against your right to equal treatment as a person with a disability, if:

  • the check shows that you had mental health issues, and
  • an employer decides not to hire you.

The government plans to change the law and limit what police can put in a police record check. But the process to change the law will take some time.

Learn more about this topic
Community Advocacy & Legal Centre (CALC)
Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)

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