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Hiring the best possible candidate for the job is typically every employer’s objective. Then why do many employers fail to check job references prior to hiring employees?
We typically advise our clients not to provide references for departing and/or former employees due to various legal issues that can arise. When we draft Handbooks for clients, we recommend that they limit references to dates of employment and position held. However, we still strongly encourage employers to check a candidate’s job references. If an employer connects with an employee’s former manager, they often will receive very helpful information that could validate the candidate’s work ethic or reveal negative characteristics.
Dangers of Providing References
One reason we advise against providing job references is because it opens the door to potential lawsuits from disgruntled former employees. For example, if the employee is not happy with the reference provided, he or she may commence a lawsuit claiming defamation and/or retaliation. While some states have immunity laws that protect employers from such lawsuits, New York and New Jersey do not. Additionally, employers who are fearful of an action against them may provide a positive reference instead of telling the truth, which could harm the individual’s next employer.
Although many attorneys agree that employers should avoid providing job references for former employees, many continue to do so by contact managers directly. If an employee provides a former employer’s information to use as a reference, it is strongly advised that employers check them. According to the 2017 Employment Screening Benchmark Report conducted by HireRight, 85% of employers discovered lies within applicants’ resumes. This is a major increase from the 66% five years ago.
One way of uncovering lies is by checking the job references a potential employee provides. Also, many potential employees provide fake references or place a “typo” in the phone number or name of the reference, hoping that the potential employer will not thoroughly check them. This is a red flag that the potential employee is untrustworthy and should not be hired.
We provide our clients with job reference checking tips and questions to ask the referenced employers. A few tips we include are: (1) advise applicants that you will check references; (2) use open-ended questions; and (3) never ask discriminatory questions. Some questions to ask are: (1) what were the candidate’s dates of employment? (2) what is your relationship to the candidate? and (3) how would you describe the overall quality of the candidate’s work?
Also, we suggest that before checking job references, employers ensure that they are asking the proper questions to avoid any potential liability. This would include avoiding questions that may be discriminatory.