Maybe you should hold on to employment reference checks forever. A few other ideas on reference checks.

Most sources I have read over the years suggest the document retention timelines for employee files should be three years after the person leaves the organization.

Perhaps you should set to permanent the retention timeline for reference checks on applicants. Might want to extend that to all the materials that support your screening of employees.

That is the suggestion from Richard Hammar in his March/April issue of Church Law & Tax Report. (If your interest in this post has lasted this far into the discussion, you probably ought to be reading that newsletter, available from Christianity Today.)

The reason for permanent retention?

Many states have extended the statute of limitations for litigation regarding sexual abuse. I read somewhere that California is one of those states, but won’t look for a link. The article says that in those states, the deadline for filing a suit start when a person realizes the connection between current psychological or emotional troubles and the underlying abuse, not when the abuse took place. If a person doesn’t make that connection for 5 or 20 years, the statute of limitations is extended by 5 or 20 years.

In the event there was a terrible injustice committed by an employee in the distant past, an employer might have to go back into its records 10 or 30 years to find evidence that it was diligent in screening the employee.

Therefore, you probably ought to permanently archive those reference checks and other documentation of your due diligence in screening potential hires.

The golden question to ask references

The extensive article makes several references to the gold standard of a reference check.

Ask references this question:

  • Do you have any concerns with the applicant working in a position involving interaction with minors?

That question could generate valuable insight. Listen very carefully to the response. Consider tone, phrasing, and what was or wasn’t said.

Ponder the question along with the range of possible responses and you will see how valuable that single question is.

Avoid recommendation letters

The article recommends that churches avoid letters of reference. (I think the advice would apply to all employers.) These are often written by the applicant directly with the reference giver merely reading the letter and signing it. (Perhaps that sentence should read almost always written by the applicant?)  Implication is that the comments in the letter may or may not reflect the reference’s actual opinions.

Another reason to avoid them is the possibility of fraud. After explaining one tragic situation in which a predator forged the signatures on recommendation letters, the article suggests contacting a reference to validate the legitimacy of the letter.

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