Job References: Facts, Fiction & Fair Legal Practices

Why should employers do background checks? Should you outsource them or conduct them in-house? How far in a candidate’s past should you check? What’s legal, what’s not?

These are just some of many important questions law firm managers should ask before hiring new associates or employees. When you dig for dirt, it’s not just the EEOC you have to worry about. In fact, it’s essential that you also follow the rules put forth by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Title VII, the ADA, and federal and state privacy laws.

And it’s not just employers that make mistakes. Employees should be weary of what references they list, as well.

It’s not your typical myth-busting episode, but background check experts Allison & Taylor Inc. talk about the seven deadly myths of job references in a recent article. Both employees and employers should be weary of confusing the following fiction with fact:

Myth No. 1: Companies are not allowed to say anything negative about a former employee.

According to Allison & Taylor Inc., approximately half of their clients receive a bad reference, despite strict policies in place.

For job candidates, it is important to realize that your chances can be seriously harmed by even one out of three of your references sabotaging your chances. Seriously consider your reference choices.

For employers, you have to take references with a grain of salt. What was this candidate’s previous position compared to the one being offered? How might the personality of this old manager influence his or her opinion about the candidate? Sometimes previous employers are simply bitter about losing a qualified employee—or one they spent time and money to train.

Make sure a bad reference really merits the maligning.

Myth No. 2: If I had any issues with my former boss, I can simply leave him or her off my reference list and nobody will ever know.

The reality is that background checks are incredibly thorough. A “social security check” will determine where a person has worked in the past, and include a number for the human resources department. You cannot be sure HR will omit the names of previous bosses.

Law firm managers should ask a candidate for reasons why they may have left off a place of employment. Not all omissions were made with malicious intent.

Myth No. 3: I sued my former company and they are now not allowed to say anything.

A law firm hiring an litigious employee? Now you’re treading on dangerous ground. Is it proof of an associate’s prowess and passion for legal practices or a liability? That’s for your firm to decide.

For the complete list of myths, click here.

In today’s world, where legal services demand is on the decline, law school graduates are likely to have non-traditional backgrounds. It’s for this reason that law firms may start to see non-standard backgrounds for associates during their reference checks.

Because of reduced on-campus recruitment, candidates may experience higher numbers of videoconference interviews and stronger importance placed on resumes and background checks.

Law firm managers should be sure they understand the most efficient way to cover their bases from afar, without risking compliance issues at home.

To learn more, take The Center For Competitive Management’s course, Background Checks: What’s Legal, What’s Not—a powerful resource you can use to ensure you hire the best candidate for the job and safeguard your organization against negligent hiring claims.

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