The dos and don’ts of reference checking: An employer perspective

dos and don'ts of reference checking

The dos and don’ts of reference checking: An employer perspective

Employee reference checks can be the linchpin in the hiring process. The perfect candidate you just interviewed could turn into a unicorn, or the veil could be lifted entirely. It all depends on what their referees have to say.

But, there’s more to reference checking than just picking up the phone and calling a candidate’s previous employer. During the delicate process of reference checking, it’s important you conduct these calls with a clear understanding of the law and privacy act.

Here are the dos and don’ts of reference checking as an employer:


 – Do obtain permission from the candidate.


Referees cannot be contacted without express permission from your applicant. This also means you have time to reconfirm contact numbers so save any misdials.


 – Do obtain express permission to check a candidate’s criminal record.


Candidates do not have to volunteer their criminal record and it against the Australian Human Rights Act to use the existence of a criminal record as grounds to not hire them. You can only judge an applicant on their ability to fulfil the requirements of the job.


 – Do keep a record of what was said during the reference check.


This is best done by jotting down notes throughout the phone conversation; do not record the phone conversation without notifying the other individual on the call. Under the Freedom of Information Privacy Act, a candidate can request these notes and they are entitled to see them.


 – Do not discuss anything of a personal nature.


It is strongly advised that referees (and by extension those conducting the reference checks) avoid discussing topics such as sexuality, religion or anything that could be classed as denigrating information. Organisations open themselves up to litigation if the information provided directly affects a candidate’s chances of future employment.

Increasingly, some companies are refusing to provide reference checks beyond confirming the applicant’s tenure with the company and job title. Professional reference checkers, such as recruiters, often have other legal ways to source this information as it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain.


 – Do not lie.


This is a pertinent ‘do not’ for the individual conducting the reference check, the referee and the candidate. Referees and candidates can be sued for providing false information.


 – Do understand you have the right to terminate if you find there has been misrepresentation.


You have legal grounding to terminate a new hire should you find out a referee has withheld information about the candidate or intentionally provided untruthful information.


It’s important to tread carefully when you conduct reference checks. If you’d like an expert opinion to help you through your next recruit, please reach out to a team member or email [email protected]