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02.02.2016 : News
For more informed hiring decisions, employers opt for criminal background checks
In a limited job market it’s exciting to meet a candidate who seems ideal. Sometimes, though, a person’s credentials, references and personality don’t give a complete picture of his or her past. Today’s increasingly security-minded employers are adding criminal background checks to their pre-employment toolbox. In the 10 years following 9/11, criminal background checks gradually became an HR priority in industries where staff dealt with money, specialized machinery or people, and eventually in every sector. The trend that began as a security measure is becoming the norm for employers wanting to make informed hires.
For the already busy HR professional, there are ways to maximize the benefits of criminal background checks and make the cost and effort well worth your while.
How to be thorough
HAVE A PROCEDURE IN PLACE. Human resources should develop a written procedure outlining the company’s policy on criminal background checks, including which checks apply to what circumstances. Some employers stipulate that there must be a criminal background check for every candidate. While there are valid reasons to implement the same background checks across the board – treating everyone equally seems a surer way to comply with Human Rights laws — a one-size-fits-all policy is unlikely to reflect each particular job. Dan Fallows, National Director at Mintz Global Screening, recommends having the same policy for everyone with the same job description, not necessarily for all employees. “If you treat every truck driver the same way by doing criminal checks etc, then the 5th truck driver can’t complain.”
UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SEARCHES. Knowing the difference between national, provincial and international background checks, and how the fingerprinting system works, can save employers time and money and yield more complete results.
National: A national search goes back to the lifetime of the individual from age 18. A criminal background check on a national level is a check of the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), the national database administered by the RCMP. Searches compare information against the Criminal Names Index, a subset of data within CPIC that lists all criminal convictions for which fingerprints are on file.
Within 24 hours they come back as either “clear” (no record) or “unclear” (a record may exist). Whether or not a criminal record exists can only be confirmed by fingerprint comparison. A full fingerprinting criminal background check can be completed in three-to-five days if there is no criminal record, or up to three-to-six months if there is.
Another service offered by CPIC is the Self-Declaration form, whereby the candidate has the option to declare, for example, “In 1992 I was convicted of marijuana possession in Toronto.” The police then compare this declaration against their database and determine whether it is complete / accurate or incomplete/ inaccurate. Self declaration is processed within 24 hours.
Granted, finding out if a job candidate has a criminal record means looking for information you hope not to find, namely a previous conviction for a crime that would impact on the job being posted. But a “not clear” result is not enough information on which to base a hiring decision – in fact it’s not uncommon says Hilary Predy, Associate Vice President, Business Solutions at the Calgary office of Adecco Employment Services Ltd. “A larger population may have had charges in their history than we imagine,” she says.
International: Common practice is to conduct only a national check, though many situations also warrant a provincial or international check. Some employers consult the country of origin if the candidate has been in Canada for a specified number of years. Others rely on Canada’s immigration screening, which varies; checks tend to be minimal for refugees and more substantial for landed immigrants.
The timeframes and accuracy of international checks vary widely. Some countries are more stable than others at different times, and not all use reliable sources. “It varies by country and even month to month,” Fallows says.
Provincial Court Records: A provincial background check can yield information not available through a national check. Provincial court records are considered to be in the public domain. They usually reveal all details of an offence, including date, location, conviction status and sentence. This search generally takes between two and five days. Costs vary from court to court but tend to be less than the cost of fingerprinting.
Mintz Global Screening recommends checking provincial court records in combination with a national search, but not as a standalone. For example, says Fallows, “If you’re checking the person’s Ontario records, you won’t know that he or she had a conviction when living in Quebec.”
Fingerprinting: When a crime is committed, fingerprinting is done at the time of arrest and only for “indictable” or “hybrid” offences (see sidebar), not for purely “summary” conviction offences. At the pre-employment stage, if a criminal background search comes back “unclear,” it means that the RCMP cannot clearly indicate that the person has a record without confirming it through fingerprints.
Fingerprinting involves a thorough search of all hybrid and indictable offence convictions; does not include pardoned offences; provides a 100% positive identity match; and is widely considered to be a conclusive criminal record check – assuming the candidate agrees to be fingerprinted.
A full fingerprint criminal background check can be completed in three to five days if there is no criminal record, three to six months if there is.
Keep it in perspective
Criminal background checks are just one key part in a process where interviews, reference checks, psychometric tests, credit checks and other pre-employment tools are equally important. What to do if a candidate does have a criminal record? Stay tuned for part two of this article in our next issue. Meanwhile, given the short supply of talent, Predy urges employers not to make hasty decisions. Sometimes the crime could be something minor that happened a long time ago and has nothing to do with the job for which you’re hiring.
“Let’s say they had a DUI (driving under the influence) and the job is in accounting. We have to look beyond the criminal record and consider the abilities and the skills of the person.”
On the flipside, she says, a clear criminal background doesn’t guarantee that problems won’t arise on the worksite. “Criminal background checks are not perfect, but they certainly have a purpose, and we’re glad to have companies like Mintz Global Screening that provide a quick and accurate service.”
Michelle Morra-Carlisle is a freelance journalist who has written extensively on HR matters. Dan Fallows is National Director at Mintz Global Screening and is responsible for the overall operations and business development of the division.
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Under Canadian criminal law there are three types of offences:
Summary conviction offences
Encompass the most minor offences in the Criminal Code. Examples are “communicate for the purpose of obtaining the sexual services of a prostitute,” “cause disturbance,” and “harassing telephone calls.” These are usually punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 or six months’ jail or both.
A person cannot be fingerprinted for a summary conviction only, therefore this type of conviction would not show up on a CPIC search. Also, an adult with a summary conviction is eligible for a pardon three years from the time the sentence is completed.
This type of offence is more serious than a summary conviction and has greater penalties. Following the conviction of an indictable offence, a person must wait five years before being eligible for a pardon.
Most offences can be prosecuted either by summary conviction or indictment – the Crown decides – and are referred to as “hybrid”. These include impaired driving, assault and theft under $5,000. Hybrid offences are considered indictable until the Crown elects to proceed with a summary conviction.
NOTE TO EMPLOYERS: Only indictable or hybrid offences require fingerprinting and show up in Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) searches.
by Michelle Morra-Carlisle
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