Reference checking? Get the full story

With employment-related litigation mushrooming, employers are naturally reluctant to poormouth former employees.
By Raymond Dreyfack January 1, 2000

With employment-related litigation mushrooming, employers are naturally reluctant to poormouth former employees. Given this situation, how does one go about finding out if a job applicant has been convicted of a crime, or fired for some other infraction or misbehavior?

One day Plant Engineer Horace Bogart confronted Maintenance Foreman Chuck Baine and Personnel Manager Elaine Citron with a serious problem. Three employees hired in the past 6 mo had been fired for cause. One had been terminated for stealing; another because of violent behavior; and a third when narcotic use was detected.

Bogart asked how these duds had managed to filter through the screening procedure. After reviewing their employment applications and reference letters received from former employers, Baine and Citron agreed that there had been no indication from these documents that they were undesirable candidates.

Bogart shook his head. “There must be some way of tightening up.” He asked his counterpart, “Do you have any ideas?”

“I don’t at the moment,” Citron replied. “But let me look into it.”

Question: What, if anything, do you think the managers will come up with?

Citron’s response: “I checked this out with our labor relations attorney, Kay Fielding, and she offered to prepare a liability release.”

“What’s that?” Bogart asked.

“It’s a form authorizing a reference check that applicants will be required to sign. This form would include a release of liability to former employers asked to provide information. Given such assurance, an employer would be less fearful of legal action and more likely to confide sensitive information useful in making the hiring decision.”

“Good idea,” Bogart replied. “Let’s take her up on it.”

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