Politics

Hiring watchdog to step up monitoring of government job ads

The federal government's hiring watchdog says it will step up its monitoring of job ads in the wake of news that some government departments and agencies have been microtargeting employment opportunities on Facebook.

Move comes after some federal departments microtargeted Facebook job ads

The federal government's hiring watchdog says it will step up monitoring of government job ads. (Richard Drew/The Associated Press)

The federal government's hiring watchdog says it will step up its monitoring of job ads in the wake of news that some government departments and agencies have been microtargeting employment opportunities on Facebook — possibly putting them offside with Canadian human rights law.

Patrick Borbey, president of the Public Service Commission of Canada, said his office also is reminding organizations that fall under the Public Service Employment Act that they have to post all job openings on the government's GC Jobs website for at least one day. Any postings beyond that — through social media, career fairs, newspaper ads or outreach efforts to particular communities — are up to individual departments, he told CBC News.

Borbey said the problem first came to light last fall when the Public Service Commission learned that a government department had posted a job online without also making it known to all Canadians through the government's official job posting site.

Patrick Borbey, president of the Public Service Commission of Canada, says all government departments that fall under the Public Service Employment Act have to post openings on the GC Jobs website where all Canadians can see them. (Arctic Council)

Following an investigation by CBC News in April that documented dozens of employers — including government departments — microtargeting job ads on Facebook by age, the commission told its staffing support advisers to remind government departments of the rules, Borbey said.

"I don't think it's a widespread activity but clearly we're going to be doing a little bit more monitoring now to make sure."

Borbey said departments that fail to advertise job openings on the GC Jobs website could face sanctions, including restrictions on the right to conduct their own hiring competitions.

As long as departments post on the government jobs site, which can be seen by everyone, they may be able to microtarget ads on other sites, Borbey suggested.

"They have not microtargeted if they have posted it on GC Jobs because that is available to all Canadians. There is no limitations in terms of who has access to that," he said.

"I'm only responsible for that particular part. What they do with Facebook, Indeed, LinkedIn ... as long as they have met the requirement under the policy, that's what I'm concerned about."

While the commission oversees hiring for an estimated 210,000 jobs in the core public service, it doesn't control hiring in independent government agencies like the Canada Revenue Agency, Parks Canada, the armed forces or the RCMP.

Under federal and provincial human rights laws in Canada, employers aren't allowed to restrict who sees job ads based on criteria like age, gender, race or religion — unless the restriction is a bona fide occupational requirement or is part of a special initiative like a summer job program.

Documents tabled in the House of Commons earlier this week revealed that several government department have microtargeted Facebook job ads by age, often excluding older workers.

For example, three of four job ads for border guards that the Canada Border Services Agency has run since March 2017 would have been seen only in the feeds of Facebook users aged 18 to 34. The Canada Revenue Agency advertised "numerous" government jobs in March 2017 that were microtargeted to Facebook users between the ages of 24 and 49.

Bruce Cheadle, spokesman for Treasury Board President Joyce Murray, said departments and agencies are expected to follow the hiring rules set by the Public Service Commission.

"We use many tools to attract Canadians to join our world-class public service and do so while ensuring the integrity of the hiring process is preserved," he said in a statement. "This includes following legislation and regulation which clearly states that employers must not discriminate while hiring."

Conservative MP Peter Kent and New Democrat Charlie Angus have called on the government to send a clear message that age discrimination in government hiring is unacceptable.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

About the Author

Elizabeth Thompson

Senior Reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

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