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Q&A: Can we ask references about an applicant’s previous use of sick time?

Question:

Can we ask references about an applicant’s previous use of sick time? We’d like to get a sense of their reliability.

Answer from Rebecca, SPHR:

I strongly advise against making any inquiries into their history of calling in sick. Asking about absences due to illness or injury could run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act and give you information about an employee’s inclusion in a protected class that you’d be better off not having before hire.

Additionally, if you’re in a state that requires you to provide sick leave, making adverse employment decisions based on use of protected sick leave use (including deciding not to hire someone) could expose you to liability.

However, when calling references, it is permissible to ask generally about attendance and tardiness to get a feel for the candidate’s reliability.

 

Rebecca has a diverse background in Human Resources and Training Management from the temporary staffing and insurance industries. She has served in a variety of HR management positions, and enjoys translating complex regulatory language into “real world” scenarios, allowing her clients to quickly utilize the content in their daily activities.

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