Allevity Blog

Checking References Without Getting Sued

Apr 6, 2015

Let’s face it, we live in a litigious society.  In the context of hiring, there is a lot that can get you into trouble these days - even when you think you are doing everything by the book to protect your company. Hiring the wrong person for the right reasons can open you up to just as many issues as not hiring the right person for the wrong reasons.

So let’s talk about how checking references can help – so long as you do it the right way.  

The Argument for Checking

Checking references can sometimes feel like a bit of a pain. It’s one more thing on a long list of to-do’s for hiring managers to deal with, and for those who rely on gut feelings to make hiring decisions – it can seem like a waste of time to follow up on an applicant who seems like a perfect fit.

The problem is, there are plenty of candidates who are skilled at saying all the right things and covering up everything about what might make them a horrible employee. If you wind up hiring someone who could actually pose a danger to your other employees, and it is found that a simple reference check could have prevented that mistake – you’ve opened your company up to a lawsuit.

It doesn’t even have to be that serious, though. You can find out a lot from reference checks that you would never learn in an interview. For instance, maybe that seemingly perfect employee has a knack for charm, and an overwhelming laziness when it comes to everything else. Take that extra 30 minutes to do your due diligence. It’s worth it for that extra peace of mind. 

The Importance of Full Disclosure

All that said, your applicants have to know you are checking their references and agree to your doing so. This is a simple fix, though. Either have a waiver that applicants sign on the application granting you this permission, or present all interviewees with a waiver for them to sign before leaving. Those who refuse to sign negate their claim to the job opening, and are giving you a pretty clear signal that they probably wouldn’t be the best hire anyway. 

Keep it Professional

When conducting reference checks, keep in mind that you can get in trouble for asking all the same questions you would never ask in an interview. Inquiring about an applicant’s sexual orientation or religious affiliation is a big no-no. Keep your questions professional, asking instead whether an applicant might be eligible for rehire, and whether or not a previous supervisor would recommend the candidate for hire elsewhere. Understand that some companies have a policy that only allows them to confirm dates of employment and rehire eligibility, which is often their way of protecting themselves as well. 

Keep it Even

Guess what? If you are conducting reference checks for one candidate, you need to be doing so for all other candidates in consideration as well. And you need to be keeping diligent records of just that. If it is found that you dug a little deeper with some candidates, hinting at a possible discrimination you might be harboring, you open yourself up for trouble.  

Takeaway Message

Reference checks are a good thing, and absolutely worth your time to complete. But don’t be ignorant about it. A little common sense can go a long way towards ensuring your back is covered!

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