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by Eileen Levitt | March 10, 2009

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Every employer has at least one employee horror story that will never be forgotten. For example, many involved (including myself, of course) still remember the day almost seven years ago when Employee X was arrested at the work site and carted off to jail.

The employer in this case had made provisions to check thoroughly everyone's references before they were hired. References included: prior job history, supervisors, as well as credit and criminal background. The employer even used a reputable firm (or at least one it thought was reputable) to do the checking, and Employee X came out clean.

What happened? The information was wrong. In reality, due to an error at the reference checking company, all pertinent references were not thoroughly checked. It was learned later that Employee X had recently been released from jail in another state. To make matters worse, he was on probation in that state and was not permitted to leave. The kicker? He was in jail for stealing from his employers.

As remarkable as this situation is, it happens a lot, but it doesn't have to be that way. Companies can avoid these embarrassing situations by accurately checking the information on the prospective employee's application. You must also decide whether this process should be done in-house or outsourced to a respectable reference company, keeping in mind that the way the checks are conducted can have various legal ramifications for your company. Background checks and reference checks do not lend themselves to "just anyone" doing the job. If you do not have a significant amount of experience and time to check references, you may want to hire experts to do it, but be sure to check their references first. Ask for testimonials from past clients to ensure the company is reputable and thorough; see if they provide a free trial or sample; be sure they include criminal background checks, and don't just assume they do.~If you choose to check the prospective employee yourself, you should know what you can and cannot check. Basically, if the fact you are checking applies to the job, it is fair game, but you need the applicant's written permission on the application to check this information. For instance, you wouldn't check a driving record for an administrative assistant, but you would for a delivery person.

As a final word to the wise, it is important to remember the following rules regarding reference checks: you must be consistent with all applicants - holding all applicants to the same standards. And you should also carefully document the responses you receive because you never know when you may need to provide them back to the applicant.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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