A reader writes:
I am a training manager for an independent cell phone retailer. Basically, I make sure all new hires in my district have their new hire paperwork filled out so I can fax it to our home office, and train them on store operations and customer service at my store location before we shift them out to other stores to their home location. In the case of new store managers, I travel to their store and train them on managerial operations. It’s a good system, and works rather well as I’m assisted by our district manager (in terms of chain of command, the store managers report to the DM; I report to the DM also, but also have authority over store managers).
We have fairly high turnover, unfortunately, and it’s because it’s an hourly + commission position. Store managers also make a percentage of their store’s profit once it reaches a certain (obtainable) tier. But when sales go down, upper management (above the district level) really starts to pressure salespeople to sell more, and people quit because they aren’t making as much in some months as they do in others.
Recently, we started looking to hire a new store manager for a particular location with up and down sales. We received a resume from a young man who was presently employed by my former company, holding my former position (customer service manager for a mass retailer). I scheduled an interview (for store managers, I interview the first round and my DM interviews the second round). The DM ultimately makes the hiring decision. First interview went fairly well. He was a bit quiet and reserved, but I didn’t see any red flags.
I’m still on great terms with the people I worked with at my former company, so between interviews (his second interview was a different day), I went to talk to some people he works with. I didn’t give any indication it was “reference checking” and I didn’t indicate that he was looking for employment at my current company. What I found out was… interesting.
The young man had been fired the day before I went in there for slacking off, and going out to his car on breaks and drinking on the job. He apparently came back from lunch so drunk that the upper management could smell the alcohol on him. This was repeated by every person I asked,”Hey, Jim’s a customer service manager here, right?” (The reply back was usually, “He used to be; he got let go yesterday?” “Why?!” “Because —- “)
I called my DM and told him that I had found out our candidate had been fired for performance and misconduct (because he was drinking on the job). He immediately told me to call him back and thank him for his time, but that we will not be moving forward with his interviews.
Word got out in both companies that this incident was the sole reason we decided not to move forward. I had been told repeatedly by other coworkers and former coworkers that we “can’t do that,” to which I reply, “Why not?” It’s perfectly legal to not hire someone as long as it’s not because of an EEO protected class. I’ve been told we “can’t do that” because it was an “off-the-record” discussion therefore it can’t be used against him. Again, I remind them that we can totally do that, there’s nothing illegal about it, or unethical for that matter.
As a hiring manager, would you have made the same call?
I sure would have.
Assuming these are people you know to be credible, and that there wasn’t any chance that their comments to you were part of some kind of widespread ruse. (Unlikely, but the caveat is worth giving.) If there was any such chance, then I would have verified it more formally with his manager.
As you wrote, it’s perfectly legal to choose not to hire someone for any reason at all, as long as the reason is not their race, religion, sex, national origin, or other protected class. And you absolutely can use information in your decision-making that comes from off-the-record conversation; in fact, good hiring managers do it all the time — reaching out to mutual contacts for an off-the-record assessment of someone’s work. It’s part of good hiring; you’d be negligent not to talk to mutual contacts if you had them, and sometimes off-the-record conversations are what’s required to get candid information.
(Frankly, if anyone took on any risk here, it’s your former company, not your current one. If they misrepresented the facts and that misrepresentation was responsible for him being denied employment, that would be a potential problems for them. But if they told the truth, they didn’t do anything wrong. And either way, there are no prohibitions on you using the information you heard.)
Are your colleagues really suggesting that you should have moved forward with this guy and ignored that you’d learned that he’d just been fired for drinking on the job? That’s insane, and you should suggest that they educate themselves on workplace law.