Reference Checks Face Declining Relevance

Although job references took on increasing importance when the coronavirus pandemic curtailed face-to-face interviews, an April 2021 Wall Street Journal article reported that reference checks have become less important in the hiring process in recent years. Reference checks, of course, have always had an inherent flaw in that job candidates self-select their reviewers. Odds are low that candidates will choose anyone other than those they know will give a glowing appraisal. The article reported that it’s now standard practice for jobseekers to not only omit job references on résumés but also the stock line “references available upon request.” Job coaches are instead encouraging applicants to list their references on LinkedIn. What’s clear is that the majority of employers who do check references need to be more thorough with their questions. A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment found that 51% of employers conducting reference checks never discussed areas where job candidates had room for improvement. Nearly 20% never discussed candidates’ areas of strength either. Employers who continue to perform reference checks are encouraged to ask for detailed examples of how applicants performed in specific scenarios, how they solved problems they encountered, and how they achieved a cultural fit in their previous positions.


Can You Ask Job Applicants if They Are Vaccinated for COVID-19?

Just as employers are legally permitted to require COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace as long as there are accommodations for medical conditions or religious beliefs, employment law experts say that in most instances companies are permitted to ask job seekers if they are vaccinated—but they need to do so carefully in order to minimize legal risks. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance that employers may make a simple inquiry about the COVID-19 vaccination status of workers without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act because it’s unlikely to elicit information about a disability prior to a job offer. Employment law firm Fisher Phillips advises employers to be as transparent as possible and state in job postings that the firm requires vaccination for employment with reasonable accommodations for valid medical or religious reasons. This should save time in the hiring process by winnowing out most unvaccinated job seekers. A strict yes-or-no box regarding vaccination status is preferable to asking about it during a job interview, which carries a legal risk that the job applicant could reveal medical, religious, or disability information protected under federal law. Follow-up questions, such as asking why an applicant is unvaccinated, ventures into murky legal waters. Firms should ensure that local or state laws, such as the one enacted in Montana this past spring, do not prohibit employers from requiring the disclosure of vaccination status. Companies should only be asking about applicants’ vaccination status if they are doing so for their current workforce, and hiring managers need to keep in mind that employment decisions based solely on applicants’ vaccination status could trigger discrimination lawsuits.

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