Reference Check Legalities
May 23, 2008 9:38 PM   Subscribe

In Canada, is it legal to verify the employment history of a job candidate without their consent?

I've been offered a job "pending successful reference checks". The employer told me they needed 3 references, I provided 4 including one former supervisor from my second last job (I was fired from my most recent job). They were unable to reach my former supervisor, but they checked all my other references. So they then asked me for a reference from my last job (the one I got fired from), and I provided someone who I had a very close working relationship with but whom wasn't a direct employee of the organization. That was yesterday. Today I got another message complaining that they still weren't able to reach the supervisor I had listed as a reference and asking if I had another way to reach her. This was left on my cell phone, so I called back and left a message saying no I don't, but the prospective employer won't receive my message till Monday.

I'm worried that they are going to start, or have already started calling the organizations directly to verify my work history, and will find out I was fired in the most recent case, and in other cases that I have fudged my dates of employment. So I guess I'm wondering what the plausibility of this happening is? I'm supposed to start Monday, at least I was. Now I don't know.. Do I go in on Monday or not? I haven't been officially offered the position yet, but they thought reference checks would be done by now.. I'm getting a bit frustrated with the process though as they've now contacted 4 references and it seems a bit excessive or like they smell a rat?
posted by Raynyn to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't see why it would be illegal, but hey -- I'm not Canadian so I don't know.

But if I was you, I'd turn up for work on Monday, dressed professionally and a little bit early. Look ready to work and that will go a long way in your favour.
posted by robcorr at 10:29 PM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

This applies to all but the most unprofessional organizations: if you were fired from your last job you won't get a good reference from them but you don't have to worry about them saying you that were fired or why you fired. They will merely confirm your last-held position and dates of employment. Thing is that companies are afraid of being sued for ruining your ability to find new employment -- I forget the details but there is case-law precedent for it.

Furthermore, companies that do thorough background-checks are used to not being able to reach everyone on their list right away. That's just life -- they can't expect everyone to return their phone calls immediately. But they are thorough and they will followup until they cross everything off their list.

So just relax. And make sure you relax. If you get nervous and start acting all weird, that'll raise more red flags than some paper-pusher not returning a call.

Did I mention that you should relax? Relax, it'll be fine.
posted by randomstriker at 11:08 PM on May 23, 2008

I cannot offer legal advice, nor can I offer Canadian advice. However, I can offer advice from the USA, and perspective on why things are as they are here.

Here, previous employers generally will not speak ill of even a bad employee, avoiding any lawsuits over defamation. Prospective employers generally ask if they can contact previous employers as a reference, but it's commonly expected for them to verify previous employment.

Many HR departments here will verify that an employee worked at their company from start date to finish date, and I believe, whether they are eligible for rehire. Your biggest worry is not your previous employer, but rather how you fudged your employment dates.

If I were in the position of employing you, my main concern would not be about you being fired so long as it was a one-off and not for criminal behavior. Things happen, some people don't get along, some people are poor matches for certain jobs, and the past is the past. Lie on an employment application, and I'd be suspicious of you from day one. If you'd lie to me there, I'd wonder what else you'd lie to me about, and whether you could be a trustworthy employee.

So, I can't tell you how far they'll go, or how far it's legal for them to go. However, I'm fairly sure they can verify employment dates. It'd be helpful to know just how much "fudging" you did on employment dates, that's the more likely issue.

Go in Monday prepared to work. The worst that could happen is that you didn't get the job anyway. If you don't go in prepared to work, you could lose a job you could have had otherwise. By being there, you say that you expect things have gone well, and that you're ready to get to work. Not being there says you're afraid they'll find something, or that you just aren't terribly interested in the job.
posted by Saydur at 11:24 PM on May 23, 2008

Of course you go in. But do have your explanation prepared for why you were fired, just in case it does come up. Don't stammer your way to an excuse, have a good answer in the bank in case you need it.

Yes, they'll check, or they should, because we all know how much people fudge and edit their resumes. What Saydur says is true in Canada too, though. The worst 'review' you'll get from an old employer, even one who fired you, is damning-with-faint-praise, for the same reason: they could be legally liable for defaming you.

I remember I worked with someone who was fired for being caught stealing from the company, quite literally, though it wasn't prosecuted criminally because the amount wasn't worth the effort. But because of that, the worst that HR could say when asked why she was dismissed was "we weren't comfortable giving her more responsibility."

You learn to hear, and speak, in code words.
posted by rokusan at 3:17 AM on May 24, 2008

and will find out I was fired in the most recent case, and in other cases that I have fudged my dates of employment

See, this is why they actually bother to do these checks. Because they want to find out whether you're being straight with them or not.

Fudging dates of employment is, in my opinion, a deeply stupid move. If you were applying to work for me, and I found out you'd been bullshitting me on paper to make yourself look better, that would count way harder against you than confirming you'd been fired. People get fired for all sorts of reasons, not all of which reflect badly on them. But if I find out you're lying to me upfront, I definitely won't want to work with you. And if I find out you've been lying about something as trivially easy to check on as dates of employment, I extra definitely won't want to give you work that involves any degree of Clue.
posted by flabdablet at 3:20 AM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

and will find out I was fired in the most recent case, and in other cases that I have fudged my dates of employment

Don't lie on your employment documents. It's cause for dismissal, even if they find out after you start working.

If they're the kind of company that does reference checks, then they already know that you lied on your application. Show up on Monday if you think you have an offer, but be mentally prepared to be asked to leave.
posted by 26.2 at 7:35 AM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't stammer your way to an excuse, have a good answer in the bank in case you need it.

I agree with the other responses that the truly bad part of the story is the fudging of dates. I wouldn't mention it at this point, but if it does ever come up, I think the best "excuse" would be the truth. Just fall on your sword, say you were afraid of a bad recommendation due to the circumstances regarding your departure from the last job. Lying after someone has called you out is only going to hurt you. But until someone brings it up, it would be in your best interest to keep your trap shut. After you've been working someplace for a while, nobody cares what was on the paperwork.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:35 PM on May 24, 2008

« Older Help interpret this ACT score   |   Weird Black Hole in Corner on Mac Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.