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Talk about putting you on the spot. When a recruiter or hiring manager from another company contacts you to get a reference on one of your former employees, exercise caution. Avoid making subjective statements that could potentially land your company in hot water if the former employee feels you ruined his chances for employment. If the former employee is eligible for rehire, leave it at that and don't elaborate on how much you'd love for him to come back. Conversations like that might cause a recruiter to further question you about your former employee's job performance.
Employment Verification Questions
In many cases, prospective employers contact the names of references for information about the candidate's work habits and professional traits. But when a recruiter or hiring manager wants to know about specific qualifications or past performance, he'll usually call the candidate's previous employer to obtain that information. If you're on the receiving end of one of those calls, be mindful of the amount and type of information you provide. Even well-intended answers can be misinterpreted, so keep your employment verification and reference information factual and brief.
Avoid the Question
To avoid awkward questions about former employees, outsource your employment verifications to one of the many companies in that business. You could minimize your liability if you simply turn over your employment records to an entity that handles verifications. When your outsourced provider responds to employment verification requests, they can provide cut-and-dried answers to employment questions, saving you the trouble of giving a response that can get you mired in a trap of subjectivity.
Cite the General Hiring Policy
If the person who calls for employment verification insists on knowing whether you'd rehire a former employee, stick to company policy. If your company's policy doesn't address rehire eligibility, you could say, "We're an equal opportunity employer, and anyone is welcome to apply for vacancies with our company. But the selection process depends solely on job-related qualifications, not previous tenure with our organization."
When You Wouldn't Dare
Worst-case scenario is when a hiring manager asks you about a former employee you wouldn't dare hire again. Perhaps an employee who was terminated for policy violation or abysmal performance. Instead of giving an answer that could be misconstrued or too subjective, you could say, "We verify employment dates and salary upon written request. Our company policy does not permit the human resources department or department supervisors and managers to comment on rehire eligibility, based on the fluctuating workforce and staffing requirements that our company has."
Can a Former Employer Give a Bad Reference?→
Florida Labor Laws on Employment Verification and What Can & Cannot Be Said→
How to Present Job References at a Job Interview→
Requesting an Exit Interview→
What to Put on a Job Application if You're Forced to Resign→
What If You Do Not Want One of Your Previous Employers Contacted?→
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.