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Reference checks: What you can and can't do

by , 28 May 2013
'Your employees have a constitutional right to privacy. You can't expect them to 'check their privacy at the door' when they enter the workplace,' says The Labour Law for Managers Loose Leaf Service. This also includes your job applicants. Here are five rules you can use to ensure you don't invade employee privacy when conducting reference checks.

Employee privacy doesn't only apply to employees already in your workplace, it applies to your prospective employees as well when doing reference checks.

So ensure you don't invade your job applicant's privacy when verifying the accuracy of information in his CV.

'You could gain information from a reference check you couldn't lawfully obtain directly from the applicant, this would therefore involve an invasion of privacy,' says The Labour Law for Managers Loose Leaf Service.

For example, you can uncover information relating to the employee's political affiliations, religious beliefs and sexual orientation. Once you've obtained this personal information you must be careful of how you use it, as this could be seen as an invasion of privacy.

But ensuring you follow these five rules for conducting reference checks will help you stay on the safe side.

Five tips for conducting reference checks

  1. Use a structured questionnaire.
  2. Focus on job-related information, like your applicant's job title, length of service and attendance record. Remember that non work related information includes queries regarding your applicant employee's sexual orientation or political affiliations.
  3. Avoid seeking opinions from previous employers.
  4. 'Preferably conduct the reference check after the interview with the applicant and preferably get permission from the applicant to conduct the reference check,' advises the Loose Leaf.
  5. Conduct follow-up interviews to check any negative references.

Remember that although you have to ask your applicant's permission to do a reference check, the reference check should be limited to verifying the information the applicant has already supplied.

Using these tips will ensure you don't infringe on your prospective employee's privacy when conducting reference checks.

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