The Price of Not Checking References

By Lindsey Novak

April 25, 2019 4 min read

Q: I headed a team at a marketing company, and we needed one more person to balance the talent. The company lined up the people for me to interview, and I made recommendations to the vice president of the department. Human resources said it would handle the reference checking, so that was good. I interviewed a guy whose resume was impressive. He knew a lot about the business, so his background and jobs were believable. He was a little weird in the interview, but I couldn't tell why. The company went ahead and hired him to join my team.

In his first two weeks, he told me he had severe ADHD and took five tranquilizers to calm himself down for the interview. He grew progressively worse and acted like a rabid animal when I asked him to do things. He couldn't complete any of the tasks and then came his outbursts. He admitted to me that he was also bipolar. Disregarding his mental issues, he never could complete any of the jobs. He would start each one and then freak out and not work on anything.

I discovered the HR department never checked his employment history, so I decided to fact-check his resume. The employment history was real, but he had been fired from each of the eight companies for his erratic behavior and for not performing any of the tasks for the projects. I documented his behavior and performance and asked HR to fire him. The company refused to, even though the other employers had been wise enough to get rid of him. After repeatedly telling HR how disruptive and dysfunctional he was, I ended up quitting. I couldn't work for a company that became paralyzed when faced with problems. I hear people complain about micromanagers overseeing people and their work too closely. I'm here to tell people that closely overseeing employees and their work products is better than management being afraid to address and resolve serious employee problems.

A: Potential litigation has held companies captive to retaining bad employees. They consider the situation according to their fear level and the potential of a lawsuit. But with accurate documentation, formal reprimands and final warnings, companies might become far more successful in creating attractive environments for employees.

Nothing is more frustrating for an employee than to work beside another employee who doesn't carry his or her own workload. This type of situation then requires co-workers to cover for the bad employees and pick up the slack. When HR is unaware of such tensions within a department — maybe because employees feel it's not worth their time to complain — morale drops. Knowing that nothing will be done to correct a bad and unfair situation can take its toll on those who see it.

Management's lack of action is discouraging to employees of value — those who take their performance seriously in pursuit of creating solid reputations within the organization. If management never becomes aware of the below-average employees (perhaps because they are too far down on the chain of command to consider them), good employees will leave to avoid working side by side with such types.

In short, you faced the reality of the situation by recognizing it would not change. You valued your work product and performance level and left to pursue a better environment. Instead of waiting indefinitely for management to realize the negative effect a bad employee creates, you acted to save yourself. Well done.

Email your workplace issues and experiences to [email protected] For more information about career and life coach Lindsey Novak, visit, and for past columns, see

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