Effective Use of Reference Checks | DCR Workforce Blog

Effective Use of Reference Checks

It came as a shock for one and all when a hospital employee – who as a temporary worker worked in six different states – was revealed to have deliberately infected others with Hepatitis C. His heinous act resulted in communicating the infection to at least 30 persons and threatening the welfare of at least 4700 others! The hospital claims to have duly performed pre-employment drug tests and standard and criminal background checks when hiring him. But he had worked in 12 hospitals across 8 states, one of which now says he was fired by them in April 2010, when he was caught with cocaine and marijuana in his system. It is unbelievable that the next employer failed to discover this crucial piece of information in the background check, if they conducted one.

In the event of such misbehavior by an employee, the employer cannot escape allegations of negligent hiring and/or negligent retention. An employer who hires a person with a history of conviction for a particular offence (like sexual assault or assault and battery on a co-worker) is fully liable if such behavior is repeated by the person on the new job. If it can be proven that the employer had prior knowledge of the worker’s history, the employer will face serious consequences.

Approval for new positions and searching for new employees consumes a lot of precious time before one manages to bring a resource on board. When the need for a new hire is immediate, or a position is not deemed critical to the organization’s success, there may be a tendency to rush through the various steps of the hiring process to get the employee onboard.  However, if such speeding up implies a perfunctory approach to conducting a thorough reference check, the consequences of that compromise can sometimes prove extreme.

Conducting Reference Checks:

Prior to conducting a reference check you should obtain a written release from the candidate authorizing you to conduct the various verifications.  This would enable previous employers to share the required information without fearing any repercussions, especially when it is sensitive like someone’s behavioral problems. When checking references, talking to an immediate supervisor is important, even when the prior employer’s reference policy specifies that you should speak to another designated person.

  • In addition to verifying work history, academic credentials, skills and performance related information pertaining to the person, it is necessary to ensure the ‘fit’ of the candidate for the job if allegations of negligent hiring are to be avoided.
  • Reference checks require the employer to ascertain aspects of behavior and personality which carry greater inherent risks for misuse of position or authority. This is often difficult to do.  However, extreme diligence is required when considering candidates for roles which can affect public safety (entrustment of firearms and other weapons, access to the master keys of the premises or healthcare provider positions) or other positions that can have widespread financial or operational implications for the company or society at large.
  • Cross-check all information obtained through the background checks with the candidate and provide an opportunity to confirm or deny any negative feedback. Sometimes, such interactions could also provide valuable insight into the person’s true nature and any possible tendency to aggression or violent behavior.
  • Many employers today check Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other sites as part of their screening procedures.  Any information obtained from online resources like Google, Facebook and other social media sites must be also correlated with the person’s information to confirm that the right person was investigated online and genuine information obtained.  Remember – everything we read on the internet is not necessarily true!

Some Useful Tips:

Every one of us cannot make easy conversation with perfect strangers to elicit information which they may be hesitant to divulge. A reference check is a challenge to both parties on either end of the phone, and is best approached after doing some planning and home work.

  • It may prove difficult to get anything more than the job title, dates of employment and salary history – with the rest of the conversation being a courteous or friendly chat. Which is why it is necessary to formulate a handy set of questions prior to the reference check which are specific and require a  clear response, and cannot be easily side-stepped or ignored.
  • Learn not to make mountains out of molehills and accept that a person may err once, and deserves a second chance, if the error is patently one of misplaced enthusiasm or simple foolishness.
  • No employer would be happy to lose a really good employee, which could color the feedback provided, whether by design or in an unconscious reaction.

Once a candidate is offered the position, employers need to put proper policies in place to establish standards for appropriate workforce behavior, and create an atmosphere of zero tolerance. If negative information about an employee surfaces after joining your workforce, you must carefully consider whether the individual can and will continue to meet your work environment standards. Retaining such an employee can lead to employer liabilities for negligent retention. If continued employment is justified, the employer may define the worker’s role and provide supervision that mitigates the possibility of risk to other employees.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.