Are you conducting reference checks correctly?

Tuesday May 17, 2022

In these days of skills shortages and great resignations, it’s tempting to skip the obligatory reference check. If you’ve found the “perfect” candidate for a vacant role, you may understandably want them to start the job ASAP, without the inconvenience of a time-consuming reference check. After all, you’ve interviewed the candidate, scrutinised their CV and asked all the right questions – what could a reference check possibly uncover at this late stage?

Unfortunately, this is a trap that many employers fall into. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, it doesn’t matter, and the candidate is the perfect employee. However, very occasionally, a reference check uncovers factors that you, as the employer, certainly need to know about.

Reference checks provide valuable insights into a candidate’s personality, skill set and work ethic, which may not be clear at interview stage. They’re also a good way to check the accuracy of the information the candidate has provided in their CV and during the interview.

When conducting a reference check, get in touch with at least two of the employee’s referees. Although it’s not a legal requirement, it’s a good idea to inform the candidate that you’re conducting a reference check, and only contact the referees the candidate has provided.

You can ask questions such as:

  • How does the candidate work within a team?
  • How do they react to pressure?
  • How do they take feedback?
  • How punctual are they?
  • Would you rehire them?

You can also ask questions to verify a candidate’s education and qualifications.

You cannot, however, ask discriminatory questions. Section 351 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) prohibits employers from discriminating against both employees and prospective employees on the basis of:

  • Race or ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Marital status
  • Family or carer responsibilities
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion
  • Political opinion
  • Social origin

It’s also very important to conduct reference checks before you offer a candidate the job, not after they’ve already handed in their notice and fixed their start date.

On the flipside, what happens if you, as an employer, are asked to provide a reference for a current or former employee? What are the dos and don’ts? Again, this comes down to matters of defamation. If you’re providing negative feedback, it must be based on facts surrounding the employee’s performance. Often, it can be easier (and less legally complex) to simply say:  ‘I would not rehire this person’

If you’d like help conducting reference checks, or responding to requests for reference checks, please get in touch with the HR Dept. We’re always happy to help.

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