Reference Checks and Professional Liars


Most Austin employers collect professional and personal reference information from potential employers. A surprisingly common part of my legal services often includes encouraging employers to actually call those references. Indifference to the reference checking process is so common, folks without any decent references understand they may still get a job even if they write down the contact information of people who really dislike them. When analyzing the cost of a failed hire, which includes interviewing, paperwork, and training costs to the organization, it is clear that employers must do more diligence prior to hiring a potential employee.

Even when an employer does call a potential employee’s references they are often only told the dates of employment, status of rehire, and salary. Employers regard this as the “safe information” that can be provided without any tort-type liability. In Texas, our legislature saw fit to protect employers from these types of claims in 1999 by passing HB 341 that codified previous common law protecting truthful, but negative, comments about previous employees. The Texas Workforce Commission provides a nice discussion of the application of Texas law on their website. Still, depending on the size and industry of the employer, I counsel many of my clients not to provide more than the basic information during a reference check because, legal or not, providing a bad reference can anger a former employee enough to have negative reputational consequences for the employer.

I also guide my employers to do more than just check references. More specifically, I insist my hiring employer-clients use Internet age common sense. Today, there are services like Allison & Taylor, Inc. or that will do a bit of a pre-work up and tell job-seekers what their references are saying them. This allows a potential employee to manipulate their job application. Most alarmingly, entities like Paladin Deception Services exist to provide “covert disinformation” to potential employers (or jilted spouses).

As an employer, if you have a hunch that parts of a potential employee’s background are not adding up, here are some steps you can take to avoid a bad hiring decision:

  • Ask the applicant over the phone or in a subsequent interview about the inconsistencies;
  • Ask for additional references that can provide insight into the area of inconsistency;
  • Decide to hire the person but be extremely diligent during a probationary period; or
  • Decide not to hire the person.

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