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Don't Skimp on Reference Checks

In the news this week (4 July 2022) have been questions over the appointment of Mathew Tukaki to Chair of the Oranga Tamariki Advisory Board without allegedly checking Mr Tukaki’s Curriculum vitae (CV). (Note: The Ministry of Health has stated it did check Mr Tukaki’s CV before appointing him to the position of Director of Suicide Prevention Office the previous week). This blog is not going to debate the ins and outs of Mr Tukaki’s situation however, what this does highlight is the need for employers to ensure they undertake full due diligence when considering applications for vacancies.

Another recent example of what can go wrong when the employer does not due their full diligence when recruiting is that of Kamahl Santamaria who was hired by TVNZ but resigned after 32 days. TVNZ's acting chairman recently admitted, in a private letter to Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi, that TVNZ's "recruitment policy was not followed" in the hiring of Mr Santamaria and "thorough reference checks were not undertaken".

In 2008 Mary-Ann Thompson, then Head of Immigration and Deputy Secretary at the former Department of Labour, found herself in a pickle after being implicated in the process of getting relatives visas. Ms Thompson resigned her position, however, subsequently was prosecuted and sentenced to 100 hours community service and fined $10,000 after falsely claiming she had a doctorate degree from the London School of Economics.

Surprisingly, Ms Thompson’s deception over her degree was not confined to the Department of Labour. Ms Thompson had previously also worked in other high-profile positions elsewhere in the Public Service.

Employers need to be alert to the fact that people will often embellish their CVs to make them look better than other candidates. Most people do not go to the lengths of claiming a qualification they have not been awarded; however it is fair to say the Ms Thompson is likely not the only person to have done this.

In these current times when employers are, in some situations, desperate to find good quality high calibre candidates, it can be tempting to short circuit the recruitment process and accept what people present in their CV and application to make a quick appointment. We all understand that the longer it takes to confirm a candidate, the greater the risk they might accept an offer somewhere else.

However, taking a “quick-hire” approach to recruitment opens you up to a risk of making a poor decision. You may end up getting someone other than what you really thought you were getting. Our advice to employers is always, always, undertake a reference check. Require applicants to provide a CV and supporting evidence of any qualifications they state they have. Tertiary institutes will have a record of who they have awarded degrees to, so if you have any doubt about a qualification, you can always verify the qualification with the appropriate institute.

While recruitment companies will include reference checking as part of their fee, we recommend discussing undertaking at least one reference check yourself, ideally with the person’s most recent employer. This gives you an opportunity to question and hear firsthand about the applicant.

Regardless of whether a recruitment agency has done this as part of their service, when it comes to making an offer to a preferred candidate, do your own due diligence. If you plan to use a social media check, ensure that your candidates are aware that this is part of your process. It is also recommended that a social media check is done after the interview so as to not introduce any bias into your selection process. You also need to ensure that any decision you make as a result of a social media check does not breach your obligations under the Human Rights Act 1993. For more information have a look at Carolyn Brown’s 2019 blog on the pros and cons of using social media in recruitment.

Making the wrong “quick-hire” decision can have lasting, financial, and reputational consequences. Once you make a formal offer of employment and that offer is accepted, if you later find that the employee has embellished their skills, experience, and/or qualifications, you can still address that, however you have to follow the correct procedural process otherwise you may expose yourself to a personal grievance. It is always better to do the hard yards before offering the job.

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