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Checking references is a critical part of the hiring process. At the very least, it is a basic form of risk management that allows employers the peace of mind of knowing they did their due diligence.

Reference checks can also act as a tie-breaker for an indecisive hiring manager, when two or more candidates are a qualified fit for the role and organization.

As employers, we know the importance and value of checking a candidate’s references and so when we’re called upon to give a reference, we know the stakes.

Today’s Globe and Mail features an article by Wency Leung warning employers about some of the potential consequences of giving a bad reference.

These risks can include lawsuits for defamation and privacy or human rights complaints.

In extreme cases dealing with issues like theft, fraud or workplace harassment, it’s understandable that an individual may want to warn an organization against a potential liability.

In fact, I would ask employment lawyers this: is their legal risk involved in not disclosing full details about a former employee? In other words, if you did not warn a company about hiring someone who committed fraud or is a potential danger to the workplace, can you be held legally responsible? This would make for a great discussion some other time but, I digress…

Outliers aside, it’s important to consider that employees who did not excel in one organization may still go on to shine in others.

The Globe and Mail article touches on this:

“…more often than not, friction between employees and their bosses are a result of a bad fit.”

You might recall that our recent quarterly e-Newsletter featured several articles on the topic of person-organization fit. This is because fit is our specialty.

We know from research that one’s fit with an organization impacts their productivity, engagement, satisfaction and retention.

This is important to keep in mind when either giving or receiving a not-so-glowing reference. Before bad-mouthing the former worker, consider whether you think the issues are inherent within the individual or if the negative experience might have just been a result of the situation.

When checking references, employers will often ask, “would you hire this individual again?” This is a safe opportunity to get your point across without splurging on details or venturing into the murky grey area between facts and opinions.

But then keep in mind the impact that answering no, or saying do not hire, may have on the individual. Even if you don’t provide any reasons or details, the employer will then likely be less-than-enthusiastic to hire the individual.

So take “fit” into consideration – the individual may be a real asset to another organization. Think of your own credibility as well. If a former employee succeeds and climbs the ranks in another organization while you were slighting them, you risk appearing unreliable.

Play it safe when giving references – make sure you are well informed of your organization’s policies and practices around it and of course, it doesn’t hurt to know the legal ramifications as well.