Avoid hiring the unexpected
A few years ago several senior execs at Fortune 500 companies set up an online business. They hired a major executive-search firm to find a CEO for their startup, and after months of looking, the board chose its man. But the board didn’t check his references or talk to his former co-workers. If they had, they would have discovered that at his last job he had had a habit of looking at pornography in the office.
After an internal investigation by his current employer turned up X-rated material on his computer, he was fired; he sued for wrongful termination, and the litigation cost the company time and money (though the suit was ultimately dismissed). An HR manager who was at the company at the time the exec was fired didn’t want to be identified when contacted for comment out of fear of reprisal by the company — a perfect example of why checking references often proves so daunting.
A good reference check is difficult to conduct. Fear of litigation too often keeps everyone overly quiet. Gerald Maatman Jr., partner at the business law practice Seyfarth Shaw, says that an ex-employee may charge his former employer with defamation or retaliation for exposing unseemly habits about him. It’s safer to leave no paper trail and send nothing. He recommends that candidates fill out an authorization form that waives any claims based on reference checks.