Every organization operates differently, ranging from its most basic mission to who’s responsible for buying paper clips. HR departments are even more diverse in their approach to the hiring function. Interestingly enough, there is seldom any communality of understanding regarding the meaning of terms used in the pre-employment process, even within the same organization!
There’s no question, however, that establishing a consistent reference- and background-checking policy is a very important thing to do. Exactly how much preparatory work needs to be done will depend on the size of the organization. For very small companies with only one location, the process should be easy. For larger companies with multiple locations, the process is no less easy, but it could be more time-consuming and more difficult to monitor for compliance. Regardless of the size of the organization, however, the basic principle to remember is that more information is always better than less when it comes to hiring people. Accepting this notion is the starting point for developing a policy to accomplish the goal of hiring the right people for the job to be done.
The most fundamental part of developing a background- and reference-checking policy is consistency between locations and among candidates for employment. Stated another way, the same level of scrutiny should be applied to every candidate and at every location with in larger organizations. Process consistency in hiring people is the first and probably the foundation stone upon which to build a sound policy.
On the other hand, it makes equally good sense to institute a policy that, within limits, allows employees to comment about former employees when they’re asked to serve as references—because they’re doing it anyway! Having a policy in place simply acknowledges what’s already happening, and it makes good legal sense, too. In a nutshell, employees should be told to only answer reference questions honestly that are work-related and to only provide work-related facts they know to be true. Having such a policy in place will practically eliminate any potential liability for your company.