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Be careful about what you say about an ex-employee

Be careful about what you say about an ex-employee


Be careful about what you say about an ex-employee

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.

Special to USA TODAY

Published 6:00 AM EDT Sep 17, 2019

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, tackles your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here. 

Question: A former employee is lying about his time with us on his resume. His employment dates are totally off (he claims he worked for us for two years when it was really only four months), and his job title and responsibilities are almost entirely fabricated. Is there anything we can or should do about this? – Lisa 

Answer: You should not contact potential employers who have not yet reached out to you. And, this is probably a given, but reaching out directly to the former employee is a big no-no. 

However, your organization is ethically obligated to be truthful about your former employee’s history with your company. If you are approached by a potential employer about the employee’s tenure, provide accurate dates of employment. 

Specifically, you are able to provide a person’s job title, essential duties and dates of tenure at the company – but you should not give any additional commentary beyond that. And I would not recommend disclosing this person’s salary details unless directly asked to. If any of the information you provide does not line up with what the potential employer has received from the former employee, you can then point out the discrepancies. 

I get your ethical dilemma here. But as long as you are honest and acting in good faith to verify employment, you shouldn’t do anything more because this person will be found out in due time. But outside of the parameters I addressed above, it’s not your place to be the whistle-blower. 

I do wish you the best with what is a tough situation.

Q: My disrespectful manager is best friends with our HR representative. Is this considered a job-related conflict of interest? 

A: This is an understandable concern, and there are simple steps you could take today to start solving it.   

It’s highly unlikely the relationship is a true conflict of interest, simply because there are only certain parameters that would make it a conflict of interest. Employer conflict-of-interest policies typically involve employees personally benefiting in a way that negatively impacts their employer and its bottom line – such as secretly assisting a competitor. Other conflicts of interest would include: financial gain, business advantages and engaging in activities that hurt the company.

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Because your question was such an easy one, I’d also like to do what I can to address your comment about your manager being “disrespectful.”

While it is possible your employer has a “respectful workplace” policy that your manager is violating, I’d recommend trying to smooth over the situation by starting a conversation, rather than just immediately turning to policy. 

My recommendations are: 

Communicate with your manager. Communication is the foundation of any good relationship – be it romantic, familial or professional. If you haven’t already done so, discuss the situation with your manager – and throw in your concern about his/her personal relationship with the HR representative if you’d like. There are obviously misunderstandings or misperceptions that need to be recognized and addressed by you both, and HR can help.
Ask HR for assistance. If your one-on-one discussion doesn’t yield positive results, seek the help of HR. However, if you’re worried about your HR representative’s impartiality, seek out the next highest contact in the HR chain of command. Human resource professionals act as stewards of their organization, administering rules and policies in an impartial spirit akin to attorneys, counselors or psychiatrists. 
Suggest HR collect behavior feedback. One helpful approach would be asking HR to collect behavioral feedback, which means first asking you to describe your manager’s actions without ascribing intent to them, then comparing the description to your manager’s experience of the same events. Be prepared to answer questions like: What does your manager do to make you feel disrespected? How does it affect your work and the organization? By combining both sides of the story, HR can clarify the situation. Maybe you’ll learn your manager was unaware, and deeply sorry, that he or she seemed so disrespectful. Or maybe your gut instinct was right – and he or she is just a jerk. Either way, HR will be there to clarify the situation and identify which steps, if any, need to be taken to make your workplace work for you. 

I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this, but I hope this advice will help you navigate those muddied waters. Good luck!

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