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Contacting referees before offering employment

Q I am interested in your thoughts about contacting referees before offering employment in the private sector. Do you state on the application form whether checks are made prior to offer or after?

A You need to ensure that this doesn’t put off good candidates, who may not have accepted the role at this point. They may be reluctant to give you details before making a final decision and letting their current employer know. I would personally wait until the person has accepted.

A We always check references but only after the offer of employment has been accepted. We mention during second interviews that we want to check references. I have a standard form that I send to the referees, and the reply rate is quite good.

A I wouldn’t take up references before offering employment, especially when only one person will get the job. My evidence shows that the managers of those who were unsuccessful were not prepared to invest management time, support, coaching, and even money for development over the next three to six months when someone was going to leave, as they could see no return on that investment in the short term. Ideally, you should have enough faith in your own recruitment and assessment process to identify the most suitable person for the role and that they can actually deliver what your business needs. Don’t forget that many candidates are not going to suggest someone who is going to give them a bad reference – it would be career suicide – which questions how reliable some references are.

On-call firefighters

Q Is there any legislation or best practice about contractual hours for on-call firefighters? What do you do when an on-call firefighter cannot attend his normal place of work until 1pm (instead of 8am) as he was out on call till 3am that morning. Do the hours that a person works on call get added to his normal place-of-work hours so that he does not work more than 48 hours per week?

A I work in HR but was a retained firefighter for several years. The rule regarding time spent on call is that the time should be made up. I always worked an extra hour every day anyway, and my manager was happy that I had worked over and above any hours that were lost spent out on call. However, for longer call-outs, of half a day or more, for example, the employee may need to book this time as either holiday or excused unpaid leave by mutual agreement with their manager. The reality is that the longer call-outs are the exception rather than the rule, and the average call-out time was about an hour and therefore easier to manage in terms of making up the time. You need to establish the extent of the impact (ie how many employees are there in this position in the company and what’s their average call-out time etc) before establishing a set of appropriate guidelines. We have been lucky enough so far to be able to work primarily based on goodwill arrangements without the need to adopt a more formal procedure.

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