Checking An Applicant’s Past Employers

One of the crucial parts of hiring a new employee is calling each past employer that the applicant discloses to find out what kind of employee the applicant has been during his career. It is true that some former employers won’t give out specific information about past employees, mainly because their employment attorneys have advised them to keep quiet. Even if the former employer won’t talk, you still need to document that you made the attempt to investigate to avoid any kind of negligent hiring claim.

However, in many small towns, like those in the Texas Panhandle, you can get a former employer to talk, mainly because you probably attend Rotary with, go to church with, or coach t-ball with the former employer. But even if you know you can find out something about the applicant, what do you want to know? Here are suggested questions to ask about an applicant:

  • Verify dates of employment and job title.
  • What were the applicant’s job duties?
  • How often per month was the applicant absent from work?
  • Was the applicant ever tardy?
  • How would you describe the applicant’s work ethic?
  • How would you describe the applicant’s performance of his/her duties?
  • What difficulties did this applicant have with other people in your workplace?
  • Would you rehire the applicant?

The easiest way to get information from former employers is to have the applicant sign a release that reassures the past employers that they won’t be liable for giving out information about the applicant. Here is some language that I ran across recently in a slander case:

I authorize my references and my former employers to disclose to [this Company] any and all employment records, performance reviews, attendance information, letters, reports, and other written or oral information related to my employment, without giving me prior notice of such disclosure. In addition, I hereby release [this Company], my former employers, references, and all other parties providing information from any and all claims, demands, or liabilities arising out of or in any way related to such investigation or disclosure. I waive the right to ever personally view any information given to the Company by these released parties.

There is no guarantee that a former employee won’t sue for defamation if he doesn’t like what is said about him, but a release similar to this, signed by the former employee, is one of the best methods available in Texas to encourage truthful information about applicants to be shared in the business community.

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