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Reference Checking


Reference CheckingI was listening to a discussion the other day about reference checks and heard someone ask the question, “What can an employer say”?
I have been in human resources for many years and held management and supervisory positions prior to that – so I’ve been asked to supply references for years.

There is no doubt that reference checks are not given as freely as they once were because of lawsuits that have challenged previous employers because of things said or not said about an employee.  The thing is: reference checks help employers make good hires.
As long as what a previous employer says is truthful and can be supported by documentation that was shared with the employee – then it can be shared.

As an example – if an employee was terminated due to frequent tardiness – or had performance issues that resulted in termination – as long as everything is documented and the employee was made aware of the issues through the documentation: yes – it can be given on a reference check.
Where employers can get into trouble, is when they started to make personal opinions or comments that cannot be supported – personal opinions should not be made.  This is why so many organizations only allow human resources personnel to provide reference checks.

Some organizations, have decided that the safest way to stay out of any kind of conflict around providing references, is to just state the date a person was hired; when they left; the position they held; and basically will just confirm the employment with them.  This will verify the information an applicant gave is true when we receive this type of a reference – but as employers – we’re not really providing information that will assist in the decision-making process and hiring the right person is more challenging.

A reference check is an important piece of the hiring process and as long as what is stated is true then it should be stated.  We are becoming a more litigious society – but what do we have to fear if we have done our jobs as managers, supervisors, and human resources people?  If we have done our jobs effectively, then we can support whatever reference we give.

We are putting all of our employees in the same bucket – good ones; excellent ones and those that turned out to be nightmares – are all being treated the same way.

Not checking references is one of the cardinal sins of recruiting personnel.  But if no one is willing to give anything other than ‘name-rank-serial number’ how on earth can we make balanced decisions about candidates?

So, please employers – realize that yes – you can say what you need to say without fear of legal action! As long as it’s true and can be supported – then give the reference.

Another option for you is to ask the departing employee if you can get a consent form from them to give a reference.  It’s tough to match good candidates to good jobs unless we all support one another in the process.
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