I was reading an article today about a former partner of a law firm who worked for the firm for a decade before the Attorney General charged her with practicing law without a license. It turns out, at least according to the AG, that this attorney not only never passed the bar, she never even went to law school.
The article got me thinking about employers’ practices of checking references. Some employers may never check references. Other employers may have gotten lax about checking references in light of the fact that many former employers will not disclose anything besides “name, rank, and serial number.” In fact, this has become the norm as former employers do not want to give more information than dates of employment and job title for fear that a former employee will raise a claim against them if they are honest about the former employee. This is especially true as plaintiff’s attorneys attempt to stretch legal theories of retaliation to include post-termination conduct such as providing a reference.
So, what is an employer to do? Even if you don’t think that you are going to get much useful information from a former employer, at the least, you will be able to verify that the employee did in fact work there. Falsifications on resumes may not be limited to educational history; they could include lying about job histories. Employers should also contact any schools listed to verify degrees were obtained.
If a prospective employee is required to be licensed, i.e., a doctor or lawyer, employers should also verify that the person is currently in good standing with the applicable licensing authority. In many states, this information, including any disciplinary history is available online. The effort of tracking down the references and verifying a candidate’s educational history is well worth it when you consider that the alternative is that your company name could be in a headline similar to this one in the ABA Law Journal: “Was law firm duped? “Lawyer” practiced there a decade and won partnership; was she licensed?”