What’s allowed, what’s taboo with background checks outside of Canada

Many countries lack infrastructure to effectively house information
By Stephanie Stephen
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/27/2012

Conducting background checks on prospective employees has become an accepted and recommended practice within Canada.

However, not all countries have adopted the notion of background checks and many countries simply don’t have the infrastructure to effectively house the relevant data, such as a candidate’s criminal and credit history. This poses a challenge for Canadian employers that recruit and hire people from abroad.

Many governments restrict the release of criminal record information, allowing only the applicants themselves to make a request, often in person. In less-developed countries, it’s not uncommon for records to be poorly maintained or, in some cases, to not exist, making data sources unreliable.

When we talk about global screening initiatives, the focus tends to be on criminal record checks. However, it’s also important to acknowledge legal and cultural barriers to other aspects of global screening, such as reference interviews.

United States

Background checking in the United States is vastly different in its processes and legislation than the acceptable norms found in Canada — our countries couldn’t be more different.

U.S. employers and background checking firms are governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) — but don’t assume this piece of legislation only applies to credit reports. The FCRA applies to any consumer reports or investigative consumer reports, including criminal record checks, employment verifications, education verifications, reference checks, database searches and, of course, credit reports.

Understanding the difference between a consumer report and an investigative consumer report is important as there are different responsibilities for the employer. A consumer report deals with factual information whereas an investigative consumer report contains both factual and opinion-based information, most commonly reference checks, according to the FCRA.

Despite what may be found when researching criminal record options, the U.S. doesn’t have a national repository of criminal record information available to prospective employers. Criminal record checks are typically conducted at the county, state or federal district level based on an applicant’s residential address history.

There are many companies that offer a national database search containing records from a variety of counties and states. These databases are not comprehensive in nature and should only be used as a value-added search in conjunction with the appropriate criminal record checks from county, state or federal district courts.

United Kingdom

Pre-employment screening is widely accepted throughout most parts of Europe and the European Union has established legislation on data protection that affects how information is stored, delivered and disposed.

Similar to Canada, the United Kingdom has multiple levels of criminal disclosures (basic, standard and enhanced) that are available depending on the nature of the position. Any employers located outside of the U.K. are only permitted to request a basic disclosure and the records must be destroyed within 90 days of receipt.

Employers within the U.K. are required to ensure prospective employees are legally permitted to work in the U.K., which is a screening service many background checking companies offer. Credit checks, references and verifications of employment and education are also generally accepted.


Australia’s criminal record retention system is similar to Canada’s. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) house a national repository for information and employers can also reach out to state police for more localized searches.

As a best practice, conducting a national check through the AFP should be conducted on new hires. Other accepted practices include credit checks, reference checks and verification of past employment and education. Drivers’ abstracts or motor vehicle records are also commonly requested when relative to the vacant position.


Background screening in India has recently become much more common and accepted as a best practice. Criminal record checks are conducted based on a candidate’s address history using both state and metropolitan-area police to investigate the background of the subject.

As with many cultures, names and name combinations can be common, which present issues with identification. To confirm identity, personal interviews are conducted with neighbours and family members. As with many overseas criminal record checks, the hit rates are generally low and there have been reported cases of corruption.

Currently, credit checks are not available in India though many of the major credit bureaus are developing products that will be available to employers. Education verifications typically require original transcripts and copies of the degree and there are often fees associated with verifying the documents. Employment verifications and reference checks are also acceptable forms of background screening of Indian candidates.


While North America is generally quite accepting of background checks, the employment landscape and legislative restrictions in Japan differ from those of the Western world.

This affects the overall feeling toward screening prospective workers of Japanese descent. In Japan, changing careers is a rare occurrence so there is less demand for screening new hires and employees are simply not accustomed to being asked to provide such personal information.

Criminal record information is not accessible by third parties — only the candidates themselves can apply in person, which isn’t frequently requested by employers. While there isn’t a consumer credit report available for third-party access, a court search for civil suits and judgments may be conducted to evaluate financial responsibility for positions with fiduciary responsibility. Reference checks, verifications of employment and education are all acceptable practices. However, given the low demand, the turnaround time and requirements can be quite extensive.

When adopting a global background screening policy, it’s important to understand there are cultural and legislative differences that will affect both the information available to employers and how such requests may be perceived. Not all countries have reliable criminal record databases or the infrastructure to maintain a database at all and many government authorities have elaborate requirements such as fingerprinting, notarization of forms and the enclosure of photos with the application. As such, it is best to consult a pre-employment screening provider when hiring candidates from outside of Canada to ensure you are conducting a background check that is both diligent and legal.

Stephanie Stephen is department head of global screening at BackCheck in Vancouver. She can be reached at stephanie_stephen@backcheck.net or (888) 455-6702.

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