Posts tagged Hiring

Reference Checks

What can I ask when conducting a reference check?  What should I say if someone calls my company looking for a reference for a past employee?  If the idea of conducting or responding to reference checks makes you nervous, you are not alone!  Here are some tips to ensure you get the information you need on prospective candidates and protect your company when answering questions about past employees.

Calling a Candidate’s References

  • Make sure you have a signed authorization from the candidate allowing you to check on past employment details.  Generally, your employment application should contain this language and signature, but you may choose to use a separate form.  Many employers will not verify any information regarding past employees without this signed authorization.
  • Request that the candidate provide you with at least 3 professional references.  Tell the candidate that these references should be able to speak freely about their interaction with the candidate in the workplace.  While references may be supervisors, peers, subordinates, vendors or clients tell the candidate that you need at least one of the professional references to be a past or present direct supervisor.
  • Create a standard reference check form that includes all of the questions you intend to ask the references.  These questions should include, dates of employment, title, salary (if applicable), and additional questions regarding attendance, dependability, teamwork and work performance.  All questions must be work related. Do not ask any questions regarding a candidate’s personal life or questions that will reveal a candidate’s protected class status.
  • Make sure you are complying with state rules regarding criminal background investigations and credit checks, and that you review the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) prior to conducting any of these activities.
  • Remember that quality candidates should be able to easily provide you with three professional references that can speak to their abilities in the workplace.  If a candidate can’t provide such references, or if the references reveal troubling information, you should seriously reconsider the person as a final candidate.

Responding to a Reference Request

  • Make it your company’s policy to only verify dates of employment and position title.  Only verify salary information if you receive a signed authorization from the employee allowing you to do so.  Ensure your Employee Handbook requires all staff to adhere to this policy.  Refer to your attorney prior to responding to a reference request if the employee in question committed workplace violence, or was terminated for any particularly unusual circumstances.

Jill Critchfield is a professional Human Resources Consultant.  Through her business, Pacific HR, she has provided HR services to over 150 small and mid-sized businesses in Portland, Oregon since 1999.


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What Can I Ask in an Interview?

Worried about what questions you can ask in an interview?  As a general rule, interview questions should directly relate to qualifications for the job, and in almost all instances, the following topics should be avoided in an interview:


o Age – is irrelevant unless you are concerned about child labor violations under

the Fair Labor Standards Act, in which case you can ask for proof that he/she

is old enough to work.

o Arrest record – do not ask at all – you may ask about convictions, but even

then it would have to be relevant to the position in order to lead to immediate


o Association with present employees – this information is not relevant to an

applicant’s ability to perform successfully in a particular job, and the tendency

to either encourage or prohibit the employment of friends or relatives of

existing employees may create an adverse impact on members of protected


o Bankruptcy and credit affairs – never ask about bankruptcy since it is illegal

to discriminate on this basis under the Federal Bankruptcy Law – all credit

inquiries must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

o Citizenship – unless required by law or regulation, you may not ask applicants

if they are U.S. citizens since it is considered discriminatory under the

Immigration Reform and Control Act. You may ask if candidates are

authorized to work in the United States.

o Disability – the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to ask

questions about an applicant’s disability or perceived disability – it is crucial to

focus on the job, not on the disability.

o Driver’s license – avoid asking about it unless the job requires one since it

could statistically screen out females, minorities and/or individuals with


o Education – relevant if it is directly related to successful job performance – if

not, avoid it because it could potentially screen out minorities.

o Emergency contact information – unnecessary at the application stage 

o English language skills – only ask if it is a requirement of the job (i.e. an

English teacher) – otherwise it could be construed as national origin


o Height and weight – can be discriminatory against females, Hispanics, and/or

Asians – it is important to focus on what the job requires, not the person’s

physical characteristics.

o Marital status/name changes/spouse/children – any questions relating to

these issues may be construed as discriminatory, especially against women – –

none are job-related. 

o Organization or club membership – this might reveal protected class

information and it is irrelevant (i.e. Knights of Columbus, NAACP or

Diabetes Association)

o Race, color, religion, sex, or national originEEOC guidelines prohibit

asking questions that may reveal this information; rejected applicants could

have grounds for a discrimination suit if any of these questions were part of

the application process.

o Union affiliation – could be considered an unfair labor practice under the

National Labor Relations Act if the applicant claims he or she was not hired

because of the union affiliation.

o Veteran status/military records – general questions about a person’s

background in the military should only be asked if based on business necessity

or job-related reasons. If requested, such information should include a

statement that general or dishonorable discharge will not be an absolute bar to

employment but that other factors will be taken into consideration.

o Weekend work/shift changesunless required for the job, the applicant

should not have to state whether or not they can work on the weekends – this

could screen out applicants who cannot work on some weekend days because

of their religious beliefs.


Jill Critchfield is a professional Human Resources Consultant.  Through her business, Pacific HR, she has provided HR services to over 100 small and mid-sized businesses in Portland, Oregon since 1999.  Information about Pacific HR services can be found at

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Hiring Your 1st Employee

Are you ready to hire your first employee?  Here are a few items to consider before you hire:


What do you need?  Think carefully about the tasks that will be assigned to the new employee. Many new business owners are tempted to hire friends or family members, and fail to consider to true needs of the business.   The result is often a traumatic experience for both owner and employee, and a painful termination.   Make sure that you have a clearly defined job description and then seek out a person with the correct skill set. 


What type of employee? Will the new hire be an Employee or Contractor?  Employees & Contractors carry different responsibilities and liability for the business owner.  Misclassification can result in fines and confusion over the role the person will play in your business. Consult a professional prior to the hire to make sure you have your new person in the correct category. 


Are you ready?  Before you hire, be ready for your new employee by setting up a relationship with a payroll company and have new hire paperwork in place (such as W-4 & I-9 forms).  Put together a written Offer Letter outlining the position title, hours, start date, pay and any additional requirements so that both the employee & owner clearly understand position details.   


Jill Critchfield is a professional Human Resources Consultant.  Through her business, Pacific HR, she has provided HR services to over 100 small and mid-sized businesses in Portland, Oregon since 1999.  Information about Pacific HR services can be found at

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