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Can Prospective Employer Contact Your Current Employer During A Background Check?

You are looking for a new job. If you’re currently employed, that’s a plus. You’ll need to be careful during your search for a new job and be as diligent and loyal to your present employer until the time comes for a clean and amicable break.

On the other hand, for whatever reason, your work environment, relationships with your boss or fellow workers may have soured and you are on the verge of losing the job, or have already been dismissed.

In either circumstance, you’ll need answers to the following questions:

  1. Do companies call previous employers before a job interview?
  2. Should I give permission to contact my current employer?
  3. How do employers verify current employment?
  4. Can a company contact your current employer without permission?

Question 1: The timing of a background check

According to chron.com, following a first job interview, expect the employer to check your references. However, they rarely do the check before the interviewer. Most wait until there is a conditional job offer on the table to do a thorough background check.

On the other hand, sometimes an employer might have practical reasons to check references before the interview. For example, because of logistics—the applicant has to fly in from out of town—it might be prudent to do a deep background check before going to the time and expense of the first interview.

Question 2: Giving permission, and how do you answer “May we contact your current employer?”

You may be asked on a job application for permission to contact your current employer. An editorial in the indeed.com career guide provides the following advice: Simply saying “no” to contacting your current employer is not uncommon. You could be looking for a new job, but need the income from your current position to pay your bills.

Obviously, you don’t want someone at your present workplace saying something disparaging or negative about your job performance. When asked the question, “May we contact your current employer?” your options for bypassing a potential sticky situation include:

Asking the current employer’s HR department about their policy regarding employment checks. Many organizations don’t want to deal with the hassle of litigating claims by former employees. Their response to checks could be employment verification, years of employment, and position only. If the foregoing policy is in place, you can be comfortable with granting permission for contacting your current employer.

If not, there are several possible alternatives:

Listing a former supervisor who liked your work will circumvent official channels and could result in a favorable endorsement.

Ask a former supervisor in your organization. Make sure you get permission and emphasize that listing them is only for verification of employment.

Don’t list the current or past employer on your résumé. You can leave the former employer off your résumé. Rather than preparing a strictly chronological résumé, you could attach a functional résumé that highlights your qualifications and accomplishments.

Finally, there are acceptable ways how to honestly say not to contact your current employer on your résumé. For examples:

  • You are looking for new employment outside the company without their knowledge. If you are offered the new position, you will ask your current employer to provide whatever information the hiring organization requires.
  • The company has a “no-reference policy” and won’t give out performance information on previous employees.
  • The company is no longer in business, but you can provide a letter of reference from a manager.
  • The supervisors are no longer with the company, but you’ll be happy to provide letters of reference.
  • You prefer that the hiring company contact other companies listed on your résumé. Those companies have more experience working with you in roles that reflect how you would perform in your new position.

Question 3: Ways employers verify your employment history

It is important that when seeking new employment, that you are honest. Never lie or exaggerate on your résumé. Make sure the job title and employment dates coincide with what you claim were your duties, responsibilities, and accomplishments.

Alison Doyle, writing for thebalancecareers.com says that honesty is always the best policy, because at the very least your prospective employer will learn “your previous job titles and job descriptions, your start and end date for each job, and your salary history in locations where it is legal to ask.” (Some states prohibit employers from asking questions about salary history as a condition of employment.)

In short, they do an accuracy check, and frequently call your former employers to share the information you supplied on your résumé. Some employers do the verification, while others use third-party reference-checking services.

Depending on the job, the background check could include a deep investigation of your credit history. If the job includes working with young children, the check could dive deeper into a criminal records check.

Question 4: Contacting your previous employer without permission

According to shrm.org, even though there are no legal prohibitions against contacting people not listed on the employee’s job application or résumé, there are three HR rules of thumb prospective employers must keep in mind:

  1. The candidate’s wishes as to reference checking should be respected.
  2. If the candidate expressly asks that someone not be contacted, reference checkers should also respect the candidate’s preferences.
  3. Reference checkers should never contact the candidate’s current employer without specific permission.

Background checks are governed by federal laws.

Nevertheless, under federal equal opportunity laws, with the exception of medical and genetic restrictions, it is not illegal for a prospective employer to ask applicants about their background, or to conduct a background check.

What is important, however, is how the prospective employer uses the information in making an employment decision. For example, if the employer only runs criminal background checks on members of a particular racial group, that is a violation of federal law.

Federal law also requires employers to inform job candidates that:

  • The applicant provided written permission to do the background check.
  • The organization providing the background report must be informed that the applicant has provided permission, and the results will not be misused in violation of state or federal equal opportunity regulations or laws.
  • The information resulting from background checks could be used as a deciding factor in hiring.

Your takeaways

1. Always be upfront and honest when listing your employment experience.

2. If you don’t want your current employer to know that you’re looking around for another job, say so. The new employer will understand.

3. Your prospective employer has lots of ways to find out about your job experience. It’s better that they hear it from you.

4. If your prospective employer hires a third party to do a background check on you, they must use the information equally and fairly.

5. Equal opportunity laws require that the candidate provide written permission to the prospective employer to conduct a background investigation.

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