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Q.When checking references, what questions can I ask?

A.Due to the growing number of defamation, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress lawsuits filed by ex-employees, former employers are saying as little as possible when responding to a reference check. Typically an employer will only freely reveal the dates of employment. Nevertheless, to get more information try the following:

  • before checking references, try to get the applicant's written consent, and let the former employer know you have obtained this consent;
  • stress that you will maintain the confidential nature of the information, and that you only need the information to make a fair hiring decision; and
  • only ask questions related to the job applicant’s specific job skills, ability to work with others, attendance, attitude or conscientiousness, and ability to follow instructions and receive comments.

Make notes regarding the basic questions you asked, the answers provided, and who you spoke to, but keep the information in a confidential file apart from your personnel files.

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