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Make sure all reference inquiries are routed through HR

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

In this brutal job market, some people are having a tough time finding a job for the first time in their lives.

Those people may believe their former employer is dishing out negative comments to prospective employers who are calling for references. That may not be true, but frustrated job seekers will grasp at anything to explain their employment problems.

That’s why it’s important to let your supervisors know they should be careful about handling job reference queries involving poorly performing employees. In fact, it’s best if they refer all inquiries about ex-employees to HR.

As the following case shows, it’s best to let the potential new employer reach its own conclusions about the worker.

Recent case:
Vanda McCauley, who is black, worked as a compensation analyst for Stanford University. She consistently received poor reviews, including admonitions to get along better with her co-workers and improve her skills.

She applied for a job at another Stanford department. When the hiring manager called McCauley’s department to find out the salary range based on her current job, she was urged to check McCauley’s references.

Those reference checks weren’t helpful because everyone McCauley listed hadn’t worked with her recently. McCauley didn’t get the job.

She subsequently quit and sued for race discrimination. She said her supervisors must have been biased against blacks and, thus, gave her a negative reference.

The court tossed out her case, saying there was no indication any such thing happened. It concluded McCauley didn’t get the job because of the negative references, not because of anything her current co-workers or managers said. (McCauley v. Stanford University, No. 07-1784, ND CA, 2009)

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