Case Report – Alberta reference checker benefits all by taking notes

On January 2nd, the Alberta OIPC dismissed a complaint alleging that an employment reference had been given in violation of the Alberta PIPA.

The complaint was against both the prospective and former employer. It alleged that both breached the Act by communicating a negative reference that included irrelevant and inaccurate personal information – namely, that the complainant had been married three times and that she was a liar and a thief. To simplify, the Act authorizes the non-consentual collection, use and disclosure of personal information in the reference checking process, but the personal information given and received must be relevant to the hiring decision. The Act also imposes a requirement to “make a reasonable effort” to ensure that any information given or received is accurate and complete.

In this case, the complainant said she had a telephone conversation with the reference giver in which he admitted conveying the irrelevant information. The reference giver disputed this allegation, and the Commissioner held that his version of events was more likely to be true because it was corroborated by notes taken and produced by the the reference giver. The Commissioner also held that the employer giving the reference had conveyed an accurate assessment of the complainant’s performance.

There is also a point of some technical significance in the decision. The Commissioner held that “personal employee information” includes the employment information of former employees, thereby departing slightly from his analysis in earlier decisions.

Thank you to David Fraser for bringing this to my attention through his Canadian Privacy Law Blog.

George Byma Real Estate Team (Re), [2008] A.I.P.C. No. 2 (QL) (Alta. OIPC).

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