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Suppose I used to work at company B and now work at company A. Somebody who I don't know that currently works at company B has applied for a job at company A. I might consider reaching out to former colleagues at company B to see if they know this person and what they think of them.

I think this is pretty morally dubious, but is it actually illegal?

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    Can you clarify why you think this is morally dubious? – dbeer Feb 8 at 20:53
  • Suppose my ex-colleague turns out to be this person's boss for example. – Timmmm Feb 8 at 20:56
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    Why do you think it could be illegal to talk to some one ? – Neuromancer Feb 8 at 20:58
  • What is your role in company A? Are you in HR or involved in hiring in some way that this information is relevant? If not, why do you care? – sf02 Feb 8 at 21:03
  • Obviously, otherwise why would I be asking? – Timmmm Feb 8 at 21:05
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Yes it is legal. This is considered an employment reference and any sensible company will seek these of their potential candidates.

  • Do you have a source? – Timmmm Feb 8 at 21:53
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I might consider reaching out to former colleagues at company B to see if they know this person and what they think of them. I think this is pretty morally dubious, but is it actually illegal?

Well I don't know about legality the UK, but why on earth would it be morally dubious?

I always do this for any potential hire that I'm asked about.

You want to know what kind of worker they are. Hiring is expensive, firing is even more expensive and can be traumatic to the people involved.

I would like to point out some things:

  • You only ask people at the other company that you know to be good workers.
  • You ask all of them that you can because person x at the old company might say they're bad because those two people don't like each other... and you don't care about person x not liking them... person x doesn't work at your company.
  • You don't tell the person you're asking that they have applied for a job at your company.
  • You don't assume that the people are correct about that person. It is just additional information.

Along the lines of the last point I was asked once about a person who was terminated. I said that I would give her a great reference if anyone asked me about her. This stunned person x - to which I replied, "Well at her termination there was a lot of bad stuff going on in her life + there was a lot of baggage here which made things worse. I doubt she'd act like that at a new company... I think she'd do a good job... just like the work she did the first few years here." (She did a great job for several years before things went bad.)

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I don't think it would be a problem either legally or morally (although I'm not a lawyer, but I'm sure I'd have heard of something like that by now).

Where there might be a problem is where Company B has a policy of not providing references, except as dates (i.e. Person Y worked here from date1 to date2) or forbidding employees to give any reference at all (HR does it). I've had this a couple of times over the years and its a complete nuisance as a reference like that is usually given in place of a negative reference (which is legally actionable). So that kind of policy would be a problem for B employees, although you should know if you used to work there.

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