The consequences of a mistake for your business may not be life threatening, but recruiting the right people is expensive and high risk, so getting it right can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful organisation.
This week saw the end of one of the most complex cases ever investigated by Greater Manchester Police, when Nurse Victorino Chua was finally sentenced to a minimum of 35 years imprisonment for the murder of two patients and poisoning others at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.
This is not my local hospital, but I do live nearby, and once had the pleasure of working in the Organisation Development/HR Department of the Hospital, where I ran my first ever employment law related training courses.
So, as you can imagine, its’ been all over the press in our ‘neck of the woods’ and difficult to avoid.
This coverage has included question marks over the qualifications of this nurse and how carefully these were verified. The Times claims that there were three different versions of his medical school records, and in a separate report the BBC highlighted the existence of nursing degrees in the Philippines available for as little as £20!
These comments do raise the challenge for all of us about how carefully we screen prospective employees. This and associated questions about references, often lead to considerable discussion when I’m delivering my executive briefings to groups around the country, and amongst my large corporate clients I have heard stories as extreme as one person turning up for an interview, and a different person turning up on the first day of work!
So, what are the dos’ and do nots of this complex area?
- If qualifications are important (as they would be in a case such as the Stepping Hill nurse, or if you are working in, for instance, financial services), make sure that you see original copies of qualifications.
- It’s estimated that upward of 50% of all CVs contain exaggerated or misleading information, so check CVs carefully for inconsistencies or breaks in employment that may need explaining
It's worth noting that the candidate may well not have written the CV themselves, but instead used one of the many online resources that will do this for them. If you are using an application form, you can insert an ‘honesty declaration’, where the applicant is asked to confirm that the information given is true, give their permission for you to check it, and confirm their understanding that they may be dismissed if they have breached this undertaking.
- Take up references. There is a lot of scepticism about the value of references, but making it clear that they will be taken up will go a long way to discouraging a candidate from giving false information. Always make it clear to candidates as to when references will be taken, and make sure you get their permission.
- Don’t ask pre employment medical screening questions, unless it is necessary to ensure that the candidate can carry out a function that is intrinsic to the job (for instance a question about acrophobia might be necessary to ensure suitability for a job cleaning windows on high rise buildings).
- If your business involves working with children or vulnerable adults, or in other approved occupations (they’re governed by statute) you may have the right to check a candidate’s criminal record using the Disclosure and Barring Service.
It’s estimated that 20% of the working population have a criminal record, and rejecting candidates on this basis (apart from possibly being unlawful) may also unnecessarily restrict your talent pool. Take a look at a great new guide from Nacro – ‘Recruiting safely and fairly – a practical guide to employing ex-offenders’.
- For critical posts you may wish to use one of the specialist employee vetting services. Vero and Experian are two examples. Again, make it clear to candidates that these services will be used, and whether you will simply be verifying information or more widely ‘vetting’ them. The legitimacy of this sort of activity is controversial, so you may need to take advice - see Section 3 of this quick guide to data protection issues in employment.
The CIFAS Internal Fraud Database is another useful resource, particularly for finance appointments.
- Take care with social media searches. Don’t go fishing for general information, but specific searches on professionally orientated sites such as LinkedIn are unlikely to breach any privacy or data protection rights. Make sure you are gathering information that is relevant to the job, and if you don’t hire someone, don’t keep the information longer than is necessary.
- Don’t forget your obligation to check whether an individual has the right to work in the UK, it’s a requirement for ‘every person, every time’ – doing it selectively could land you with a discrimination claim!
There have been many high profile stories about this requirement, including those about government ministers, but my personal favourite is the discovery during the 2012 Olympics that the torches were being made by nine illegal immigrants employed by a firm in Wolverhampton which was subsequently fined £50,000.
So, don’t forget, ‘every person every time’, and strictly speaking, bringing the required documentation (see page 13 of this Guide) in on their first day of work does not count!
- It always needs to be remembered that your best line of defence is likely to be a well planned selection process. Don’t ask a candidate to run through their CV, read it yourself, and plan specific probing questions.
Also, think about other selection interventions. Ask candidates to carry out a work related task/simulation, or observe them interacting with people they may have to work with. These types of activities will tell you much more about their attitudes and values which are consistently proven to be the best determinants of future performance (qualifications and experience can be pretty irrelevant!).
For other top tips about the recruitment process, pick up our Recruitment Checklist.
- Finally, if you are carrying out any checks, make sure that any offer of employment is clearly subject to those checks being satisfactory to you. Even if a check is unsatisfactory, it’s always good practice to give the candidate the opportunity to explain their side of the story – you otherwise may miss a star employee!
The Stepping Hill example is extreme, but it needs to be remembered that this incident happened in the NHS where they are acutely aware of the dangers of false recruitment information, and have sophisticated arrangements to try and combat it.
This blog should not be taken as a substitute for seeking legal advice.