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A Checklist for Reference Checks

Thorough research during an employer’s hiring phase can prevent undesirable employees from becoming part of a workforce. There is no better way to get an accurate assessment of job applicants than by speaking with people who have actually worked with them. Before picking up the phone, however, potential employers should keep a few things in mind:

Who should inquire?

Someone in HR may typically perform reference checks, but the supervisor or manager who will be interacting with and interviewing the applicant should consider making the calls.  A supervisor or manager will not only benefit from getting the information directly, but they may also have an easier time getting high-level references to speak candidly about the applicant.

Consider obtaining consent

Getting the applicant’s consent before obtaining potentially sensitive information can help insulate you from liability. Further, former employers may be more at ease discussing the applicant if they know the applicant has approved of the contact.

What should be discussed?

Keep it at a professional level; not personal. Anything you ask should be relevant to the position with the goal being to find out about the applicant’s ability and how they will interact with others. Obviously, avoid any questions that could inadvertently lead to a discrimination or unfair hiring practices claim, such as inquiring about the person’s age or religion.

Know what you want to find out beforehand. People provide references whom they believe will say positive things, but this is not always the case. In the event a reference thinks poorly of the applicant, try to find out if their negative opinion is based on articulable, business-related reasons. While comments like, “she just was not a good fit at our company” can be appreciated, it is better to hear comments such as, “she was not a good fit at our company because she was repeatedly absent and needed constant oversight.”

Take notes

Information obtained during a reference check can be valuable evidence if a negligent hiring claim is later made by a third-party. For example, if the applicant is hired and subsequently is violent towards a customer, having records to show that none of the employee’s references offered any indication of violent behavior will support your defense that the hiring was not negligent.

Get necessary releases before going further

An applicant’s express permission is necessary before accessing some records, such as a credit report or criminal background check. Some records may be completely inaccessible, such as workers’ compensation information or medical records. If you have conducted the reference checks and are ready to take your interview process to the next level, make sure that you know what kind of releases are required.

The employment law attorneys at McBrayer can help your business develop an employee reference check policy and explain the proper legal procedures for employee interviews. Be sure to check with an attorney about your state’s applicable privacy and employer hiring laws. If you’d like more information, give us a call.

This article is intended as a summary of newly enacted federal and state law and does not constitute legal advice.


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