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Digging up too much dirt

It can be easy to find background information, but it may not always be useful in determining what type employee someone will be

By Jeffrey R. Smith (

In this digital age of online social networking and blogging, our pasts can stay with us for a long time. Whether it’s digital photos or written words, anything can be posted online and kept there for a long time. The question is, how long should something negative be held against someone?

Many employers have taken to checking out social networking sites as part of the background check on job applicants. Privacy issues notwithstanding, how much should some of what they might find be weighed? If someone posted pictures or wrote something in a blog several years ago, should the employer assume the individual is the same person or hold the same opinions without asking?

The Toronto Star recently reported on Sean Pierson, a prospective police officer who had a conditional offer of employment in October revoked just days before he was to start as a cadet-in-training. The reason? The Toronto Police Service was concerned about an image Pierson cultivated as a mixed martial arts fighter years ago.

Though the police indicated they were concerned the time commitment needed to be a professional fighter could affect his duties as an officer — Pierson fought in UFC 124, an event put on by the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Montreal on Dec. 11 — the biggest reason for the change of heart was that Pierson once promoted himself under the name “Pimp Daddy.”

Pierson, who is 34 and married, told the Star he was given the persona by a promoter in 1999 and hasn’t used it in a few years, saying he was “just a 23-year-old kid just out to have a good time.” However, years later, Toronto Police felt the name wasn’t appropriate for a police officer and Pierson found himself on the outs with them.

It’s understandable the police would have concerns about an applicant who took on a persona that perhaps glorified a criminal lifestyle. But it was just a promotional thing for his fighting career that was given to him that he cultivated when he was in his early 20s. A decade later, Pierson is married and focused on a career in policing. Should a name used early in his career still be held against him? Could the Toronto Police be losing out on someone who could turn out to be a good police officer because of it?

Researching the background of potential employees can give insight into the type of person and employee they might be and with the availability of information, it may be tempting to find out as much as possible. But a little perspective can help too. Youthful indiscretions are not uncommon, and it’s important to remember uncovering them may not necessarily reflect on who the person is now and what kind of employee she will be.

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today. For more information, visit

Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective.
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