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Hire With Caution

July 1, 1999
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No need to launch a federal investigation on everyone who sends you a résumé. But it's important that you exercise reasonable care when hiring, not just for safety but also for legal reasons. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Check references as thoroughly as possible. Try to speak personally with the job applicant's former supervisor. Make sure that the applicant did, in fact, work for the time period indicated and, if possible, verify their reason for leaving.
  2. Advise job applicants that omissions, misrepresentations, or falsifications will result in rejection or termination of employment. Review applications and résumés carefully before hiring. For managerial and professional jobs, verify educational degrees and licensing status.
  3. Question applicants about any gaps in their employment history. Determine whether the time was spent in prison for a violent crime.
  4. Never refuse to hire someone with a conviction record unless there's a direct link between the nature of the offense and the nature of the job for which he or she is applying.
  5. Be careful when it comes to hiring individuals with a known history of sexual harassment.
  6. If allegations of serious misconduct are made against one of your employees, investigate the situation thoroughly before deciding whether to discharge the employee. Consider suspending the employee during the investigation.
  7. Use credit reports with care. Familiarize yourself with the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and any state laws on the use of such reports.
  8. Don't reject applicants on the basis of workers' compensation filings or on any legal actions the applicant may have taken against a former employer. If you feel that a physical examination is needed, wait until after the job offer has been extended.
  9. If you use a written history or integrity test, use the results as only one of several factors in making the hiring decision. Have an appeals procedure in place for candidates who fail the test.
  10. Document all aspects of the screening process.
  11. Give serious thought to possible consequences if someone who is unfit, ill-trained, or possibly dangerous is hired. If you're hiring a guard who will be patrolling alone at night and who will be given a key to most of the company's storage areas and executive offices, you will certainly want to conduct a thorough investigation into his or her background. But if you're hiring someone for a position where there are relatively few opportunities for wrongdoing, a more cursory background investigation might be all that is needed. Don't rely solely on the fact that a job applicant has been employed in similar positions elsewhere, or on his or her denial of ever having been arrested or convicted. If the job entails putting this individual in a high-risk situation, and if you fail to make a reasonably thorough background investigation, you could be putting your company in legal jeopardy.

Source: Excerpted with permission from The Practical Guide to Employment Law. Copyright 1998 by the Bureau of Business Practice, Waterford, CT. (800) 243-0876, ext. 236.

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