Avoiding human rights code landmines

Automated reference-checking makes for standardized, compliant approach
By Lee-Martin Seymour
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/02/2017

Reference checking is considered somewhat mundane and simple, run-of-the-mill stuff, and a quick way to ensure due diligence is completed on a candidate.

That is until it goes wrong. Aside from the risk of hiring a candidate with nefarious intentions, there are legal issues that can arise from asking the wrong questions and, potentially, attracting the unwanted attention of a human rights commission.

When it comes to interviewing and reference checking, there are strong questions, weak questions and leading questions. There are also wrong questions that simply should not be asked but, unfortunately, fall through the cracks.

Usually these arise despite all the best intentions because, regardless of plans and scripts that have been written in advance, the conversational nature of the interview and referencing processes lead to illegal questions being unintentionally asked.

Inconsistencies in referencing approaches and a lack of experience driving the process have led to 29 per cent of those acting as references being asked discriminatory questions about a candidate, according to the 2016 Xref Recruitment Risk Index Survey of 1,000 jobseekers in Australia.

Questions included age (15 per cent), whether the candidate has children (11 per cent), their marital status (10 per cent) and sexual orientation (seven per cent).

It is alarming that these questions are being asked, but the fact is that a lack of standardization in reference checking leaves organizations open to the risk of unwittingly exposing themselves to legal disputes. 

No one wants to go before a human rights tribunal because the loose management of a recruitment process meant a candidate was asked whether she planned to have children in the next year — especially if her answer was yes and she didn’t get the job, prompting a formal complaint.

Done properly, reference checks offer a gold mine of information for organizations and are a vital screening tool at the final stage of the recruiting process. Done poorly, they can be a disaster waiting to happen.

Too often, the critical stage of reference checking is where the process falls by the wayside. But it shouldn’t have to be. It’s crucial to ensure candidates are who they say they are, with legitimate, appropriate, third-party input.

However, in Australia, 39 per cent of recruiters and HR managers believe the reference-checking process — in its current, traditional form — is a formality that serves little purpose, while 32 per cent see it as a drain on time and resources, according to the Xref survey.

Thirty-five per cent of respondents said the time it takes to get to a hiring decision is the most frustrating element of the hiring process.

Perhaps as a result of these perceptions, many HR departments contract out the referencing task to external suppliers, under the impression it will be more efficient and less of a burden on resources.

What this doesn’t guarantee is a deep understanding of the employer and the person who will truly be the right fit for a role. With a goal of simply getting the job done rather than doing it well, the improved efficiency an external supplier might offer is not always enough to make it the most viable option.

That said, there’s no disputing that efficiency must be a priority. In the race to hire the best and the brightest, time is of the essence. A vast majority of candidates will have applied for at least two roles at a time, they’re keen to secure their next position, and they certainly do not want to wait two or three weeks for a job offer they’ve already jumped through hoops to secure. Delays in the reference-checking phase can leave candidates open to be snapped up by the competition.

A big part of the solution is automation. Automating the reference-checking process means ensuring a standardized approach, with compliant questions, and an added layer of security that simply cannot be guaranteed with traditional methods.

More than 70 per cent of candidates will take advantage of flaws in the reference-checking process, according to the Xref survey. Some 42 per cent admit they’d deliberately lie or would ask references to lie on their behalf. Why give these cheaters a free pass?

There’s a purpose for reference checking that is lost when it’s considered nothing more than a tick in the box. An automated solution that takes the legwork of the task away from busy HR practitioners is one of the best ways to guarantee efficiency alongside security and truly actionable insights.

Lee-Martin Seymour is CEO and co-founder of Xref in Sydney, Australia. For more information, visit www.xref.com.

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