Employment History Verification

Verifying past employment of a job candidate is an important step in the hiring process. The employer must determine as well as possible or practical that the candidate has presented factual and true information on his resume and application regarding employment history. The purpose of the verification is to independently confirm the candidate’s employment by the listed companies and the associated job duties and responsibilities at those companies. The hiring employer can cross reference the verified information with information on the resume and the application along with information provided during the applicant interview that could support an informed offer for employment.

If, during the verification process, the information provided by the candidate proves to be false, or misleading, the hiring employer may have good reason to suspect there could be other discrepancies, errors or omissions of information on the candidate‘s resume and application. The employer cannot advance a candidate in the hiring process without due diligence in employment verifications.

An employer should have an established policy and written procedures that govern employment history screening. The policy and procedures standardize the verification process for past employment and work history. With legally compliant best practices, an employer can reduce the likelihood of claims regarding hiring negligence and employment discrimination. To further protect his business interests and consumer privacy rights, it is critical that employers understand the legal obligations and compliances in conducting employment background checks.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs how employers obtain and use consumer reports. Consumer reports include background checks for screening employment history. When an employer uses the services of a third party screening provider to obtain a consumer report for employment purposes, both the employer and the reporting agency provider must comply with FCRA requirements. The employer must disclose to the applicant that background reports may be used for employment decisions. Applicant consent and authorization must be obtained before conducting background checks.

In addition, it is important to keep in mind that some states and municipalities may have requirements on the use of background reports in employment screening. The state and local disclosure and authorization requirements may be more restrictive than the federal FCRA requirements. If an employer conducts his own investigations, the FCRA requirements are not applicable. However, the employer must still obtain the applicant’s consent and authorization for background check screenings.

An employer should set an employment verification policy specific in scope and detail as related to his business and industry needs regarding how a verification of employment process will be conducted. The employer can set different screening parameters for employment verifications as appropriate for his industry, specific job positions, or levels of authority but cannot set verification parameters that discriminate on a person-to-person basis.

As examples of verification parameters, an employer’s policy for previous employment screenings could be based on: a specific number of years of employment, such as, all employers within the past 5-7 years regardless of how many companies provided employment; the past 2 or 3 employers regardless of the number of years of employment; or a combination of the number of years of employment and a number of employers within a specified time frame and limited by a number of employers, such as, the last 3 employers within the past 5 years.

An important point in the employer’s verification policy and practices is the application and enforcement of policy standards. An employer must be consistent in conducting employment verifications in the same manner to the same standard with every job candidate to help avoid claims of hiring discrimination.

Standardization of practices and consistency in application, enforcement, and follow-through are keys to compliant practices. Good faith effort must be taken to verify candidate information with former employers. Reasonable, valid effort should be made to follow through with the verification process including contact by telephone, email, fax, or U. S. mail to an authorized record holder to verify employment information. Written documentation should be kept of all steps taken to contact past employers and verify relevant work history. Notes should be made as to date, time, and method of contact; authorized representative name and title and the verification responses. If the requested verification cannot be completed due to the policy guidelines of the past employer or information is unavailable, written documentation to that effect should be made and placed in the candidate’s file.

Verifications of candidate credentials can take time and effort to locate and contact past employers and the authorizing entity within that company. To help facilitate the verification process, a job candidate should be prepared to provide complete work history information including names, addresses, phone numbers, and contact information for his past employers in accordance with requirements set by the hiring employer.

It is not uncommon to discover a company has gone out of business, changed names through mergers, acquisitions, or rebranding of products and services. Staff turnover and company record keeping procedures of past employers may delay a verification process. Records may not be available or accessible in a timely manner. If a past employer is no longer in business, or unable to provide verification, the hiring employer could consider an appropriate substitute proof of employment as required for due diligence. The job candidate may be able to prove past employment with copies of a W-2 statement, payroll stubs, or tax documents supporting dates of employment.

Another point to consider in the verification process is that the contacted past employer may choose not to respond to the verification request. There is no federal law that requires an employer to provide job references or provide verification of employment for former employees. Most employers do provide employment references and verifications in a good faith effort of professional courtesy and disclosure. All information provided by an employer that verifies employment or used as an employment reference must be factual and accurate in order to avoid liability claims and wrongful defamation lawsuits against the employer.

It may be the fear of liability and concern about lawsuits that can cause many employers to limit their verification responses to only confirmation of dates of past employment and job titles. It may also be the stated policy and practice of an employer to disclose only certain limited information about a former employee.

Due diligence of applicable laws provides guidance to the verifying employer and the past employer for legal compliances and protection of consumer rights.

Recent legislation in some states and some municipalities has placed restrictions or prohibitions on the types of information that can be released by an employer regarding a former employee. Most recently some states have restricted employers from sharing salary or wage history.

Restrictions and prohibitions can vary from state to state and localities. In some states employers may be required to obtain written consent from a former employee before releasing verification information. A signed written consent may be required by the employer’s policy on employment verifications. By law in many states, employers who provide information about former employees are immune from liability for release of information or are likely shielded from defamation lawsuits unless an employer knowingly or intentionally discloses information that is false or misleading or that violates employee’s civil rights.

As permitted by state law or local ordinance, an employer may provide information regarding a former employee’s:

  • attendance, attitude, and effort,
  • awards, demotions, and promotions,
  • disciplinary actions,
  • education, training, or experience,
  • eligibility for rehire,
  • job performance,
  • knowledge, qualifications, skills, or abilities based upon credible evidence,
  • length of employment, pay level, and history,
  • performance evaluation or opinion,
  • professional conduct,
  • reasons for termination or separation,
  • violations of law, and
  • work-related characteristics.

The information shown above has been compiled from various state laws for references and statements by former employers. Hiring employers may ask a variety of questions relevant to employment history and work experience to aid in making informed hiring decisions.

Employers will need to research applicable state and local laws to be sure their employment verification policy and practices are compliant. For permissible purposes of employment verifications and references, employers must provide a “truthful statement of any facts.”

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