I was just asked to sign a release form ...

I am awaiting verification of employment for a company, and one of the last steps conducted over email has requested I sign a release form for education, employment and/or military information. The email implied it was for my high school, though I did provide a scanned document of my high school diploma, so I’m worrying it might also be for my past employment.

Keep in mind on the actual release form there is no hint which of the three fields would be investigated. What are the chances that this general release form could be meant for employment? And, a somewhat better question, what kind of sensitive information might be available if the release form is meant for investigating prior employment?

~ Prole

Since it mentioned employment specifically, they will be looking into it. There are laws that limit what former employers can say about you. This release form–IANAL–protects the inquiring party, not the past employer. Legally, they can tell if you showed up drunk, or were frequently late or absent from work. If the past employer asks anything broader–are you gay? Are you withholding info about a handicap? Did you try to organize a union? Did you sue for sexual harrassment?–They are in legal jeopardy for answering, but the new company is not in legal jeopardy for asking. This could vary from one state to another.

Background checks are commonplace in today’s hiring environment. Contacting previous employers is also very commonplace. Getting a release, is just a belt and suspenders move by the prospective employer, in case you decide to sue them over their seeking of information about you.

Better question is, what are you hiding?

If there is something in your past employment relationships that you believe could be mis-construed or misunderstood, it would be better for you to be forthcoming and give your side of the story, before they get it from your past employer. Otherwise, you’re going to be on the defensive. And the prospective employer is going to wonder why this didn’t come up in the interview…i.e., when asked “why did you leave X company?”

IANAL but I have been a hiring manager for over 20 years. That form sounds very generic and I would be surprised if any past employer would disclose any information other than to confirm dates of employment, which they would likely do anyway without the form. There’s no benefit to the past employer, and it creates legal exposure. I think that to disclose anything further that they would require a form signed by you that explicitly names the past employer and explicitly identifies what information you are authorizing them to release. And even with that, it’s up to the company’s policy as to what they will actually release.

I disagree with this. It is unlikely that they would find out anything from the past employer and so bringing anything like this out before you’re asked will just stir up a lot of concern. A lot of people have rough spots with an employer and each one blames the other and it’s hard to figure out objectively what really happened, but if I’m a hiring employer I would probably play it safe and not take a chance if I found that out about someone. Better that you not discuss any buried bodies.

And BTW just because you don’t want someone prying into your past doesn’t mean you’re hiding something.