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Privacy for agencies

Here are some of the questions that employers commonly ask us. (We will add to this list from time to time).

Q: What information can I ask a job applicant to give in an interview?

A: In general terms, you can ask an applicant to give you personal information as long as it is relevant to the job the person would be doing within your organisation, and as long as it is necessary to get that information. Don't ask for information that you don't need to know, or which shouldn't affect your decision whether or not to hire the person.

Q: Is there any information a job applicant doesn't have to give me?

A: Yes. For example, since the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act was passed in 2004, an applicant is entitled to conceal certain types of criminal offending. For instance, he or she may have a conviction for a minor offence. If that conviction is more than 7 years old, and the person has not offended again, they do not have to tell you that they were convicted (as long as all the other conditions in the Act apply).

This makes sense. The types of convictions covered by the Clean Slate legislation aren't relevant to a person's ability to do a good job.

Also, don't ask for information about any police diversion that the person might have (these are situations where the Police have exercised a discretion not to push for conviction for a minor slip-up, but have given the person a second chance). The applicant doesn't have to give the information to you, and the Police won't give it to you either. Again, diversion information isn't relevant to a person's ability to do a good job.

Q: Can I contact people who the applicant has not named as referees?

A: Not without the applicant's agreement. But this doesn't cause as many problems as you might think. For example, if an applicant hasn't given a current employer as a referee, it's worth asking why not. People do not always want a current employer to know that they are looking for another job. Their job could be jeopardised by an inquiry. If you need to speak to the current employer before appointing a person, then tell the applicant you'll have to do that, and get their agreement.

For some more tips on reference checking, see the article in Private Word, entitled "It Isn't Hard to be Fair".

Q: Can I set up cameras to film my employees at work? Or monitor their email and internet use?

A: First ask yourself why you want to film your employees or check up on their email and internet. Is it really necessary? Will any gain you make be outweighed by a drop in morale or productivity because your staff feel less trusted or less secure? Is there a different way in which you can deal with the problem?

Once you are clear that you do need to conduct these checks, the following approach is often useful:

  • develop a draft policy setting out why you are doing this, and when you will monitor (eg on a regular basis, only on suspicion that something untoward has happened etc);
  • circulate the draft policy to your employees;
  • discuss it with them, or with their union;
  • again, let everyone know why it's necessary;
  • listen to any feedback;
  • make any necessary adjustments to the policy and then issue it.

If you can get staff buy-in to your policies, there will be less of a drop in morale and productivity.

Obviously if there is an urgent situation - for example, an employee is stealing stock you may need to act quickly to catch the culprit. But it's always easier to respond to these situations if you've thought about them beforehand, and have formed a policy about how to manage them. Off-the-cuff solutions can cause more trouble than necessary.