Privacy in job seeking: what are the rules?

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Privacy in job seeking: what are the rules?

You’re looking to take the next step in your career and you have been applying for jobs. This might mean sending prospective employers lots of personal information – your resume, cover letter, qualifications, references, email and physical addresses – and in some cases, even sensitive information such as police and working with children checks, personal medical information or disability documentation. What are the rules when it comes to your personal privacy?

What is privacy?

Fair Work Australia says, “Privacy is the word we give to being able to keep certain information to ourselves and to control what happens to our personal information. It also refers to being able to do things without interference by others. Privacy issues can arise in all aspects of life.”

The current Privacy Act came into effect on 12 March 2014, and it applies to public and private sector entities, including organisations and companies that you may be jobseeking with. The Act contains 13 Australian Privacy Principles which regulate the way employers and others can collect, store, use and disclose your personal information.

What is workplace privacy?

How does this relate to you when jobseeking? Essentially, prospective employers will need to know a lot about you before offering you a job. So how much information can they ask for?

Fair Work Australia says, “Employers will have access to personal information about employees. This information may be sensitive and employees may wish to keep this information private. This means that employers will need to think about the way in which they collect, use and disclose information they obtain from employees.”

Companies need to have firm HR practices in place and the larger they are and the more employees they have, the more robust these need to be. As well as this, it’s best practice to let you know what they’re collecting from you and how they plan to use it.

“It is good privacy practice for employers to tell employees when they collect their personal information,” according to Fair Work. “In doing so, the employer could tell the employee why they are collecting the information and who the employer might pass that information on to.”

Privacy rights when checking references

As well as the personal information you provide, there are also privacy issues surrounding when and how your referees can be contacted, and how this information is stored. You also have a right to know what your referees said about you, in many cases.

Career One has interviewed Peter Ferraro, a senior associate of Harmers Workplace Lawyers who deals with privacy issues day-to-day.

The lawyer points out a company that makes a bad hiring decision in part built on information they have gathered via a referee “could seek damages from the organisation that provided the reference” if it was found to be false or misleading.

He also says that a candidate “could also bring an action if information provided by a referee was defamatory or invaded their privacy,” so rights to privacy and correct information gathering do work both ways. A jobseeker might also have some rights to find out what a referee said about them. “Under the Privacy Act, a job candidate can apply to see notes made about them during recruitment process,” Ferraro says.

Ways to protect your privacy as a jobseeker

Another thing to consider is that some potential employers might not be legitimate. The Australian Government’s Job Active website says that although there are thousands of genuine job vacancies posted every day, recently they have seen an increase in fake employers posting false job ads. These “fake employers” might also email you directly, sometimes having purchased your details from a mailing list provider.

According to the Australia Government’s Job Active website it’s important for you to protect your privacy. Here’s what they suggest:

  • Never give your bank or credit card details when applying for a job
  • Never provide your date of birth
  • Do not pay job application fees
  • Do not give out your Driver’s Licence or passport information
  • Check if the job is genuine (if possible) by researching the employer online or calling them before applying

A final note on privacy

Once you lose it, it’s hard to gain it back. There are also privacy issues when it comes to employers accessing your personal social media accounts and there are rules about what you can and can’t say online too. There have been multiple cases where people have lost jobs due to insensitive things they have said online.

In a News.com.au article, lawyer Johnathan Mamaril points out that, “If you’re on social media saying nasty things about your boss, you can imagine that’s going to cause problems. You should imagine anything you post may end up in front of someone you don’t want to see it.”

With a bit of common sense, your privacy can be protected and you’ll find the job that best suits your experience and qualifications. Take a little time to go over your privacy settings, Google yourself and check your resume and cover letter for unnecessary sensitive information.