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Knowing a neighbor's past record

Q: I am working as a contractor for a small start-up. I hope to be hired soon by them. I have a dilemma though. They are interviewing a former neighbor of mine. I know this person is a convicted felon and he has spent some time in jail a few years ago for fraud. I don’t know if this company does background checks or not since I have not officially been hired by them. This company’s hiring process is very casual and informal. Do I have an obligation to inform this company? I don’t want to start trouble but I also feel very awkward in not disclosing what I know to someone. Any recommendations?

A: You are in a quandary. Let’s explore your legal obligations (if any) first.

To better address your legal obligations, I consulted Attorney Jeffrey A. Dretler, Partner of the Employment Law Group of Prince Lobel Glovsky & Tye LLP. Dretler offers, “In the circumstances described, assuming you did not enter into any contractual obligation to make such disclosures, there is no legal obligation requiring you to disclose what you know about your former neighbor to anyone at the company. At the same time, assuming you did not become aware of the information in a privileged or confidential setting (e.g. doctor-patient or attorney-client relationship), there is no legal obligation prohibiting you from disclosing what you know to the company. That being said, acting or failing to act each may have consequences that you need to carefully consider.”

Let’s assume you do disclose this information to the company. Then, as a result of your disclosure, your neighbor does not receive a job offer. Your neighbor could discover that it was you who provided information to the company. Dretler explains that in this situation, your neighbor “could try to bring a civil cause of action against you for interference with prospective advantageous relations or even defamation. If the information you provided to the company was true, and was motivated by your belief that the company’s interests were best served by knowing the information, and not based on malice, your neighbor will not succeed on his or her claims against you.” The employer will likely appreciate this information in advance of extending a job offer to this candidate.

Alternatively, let’s assume you do not make the disclosure and the company hires your former neighbor. If a problem surfaces with this new employee, and the company finds out that you knew about this person’s history and did not disclose it, it may reflect poorly on your judgment and commitment to the company.

In short, you will need to weigh both the benefits and the risks of the situation. You will also need to assess your own moral and ethical compass. If this situation were with a client of mine, I would hope that you would disclose this information to a company representative such as the human resources officer, hiring manager or CEO/president. Be clear that you are making the disclosure with the best interests of the company in mind, and not because of any personal malice against your former neighbor. Ask them to verify what you know to eliminate any possible misinformation or error in your recollection. When providing information to the company, distinguish between the information you know to be true and that which you may be less sure about, and do not spread any of this information to people who do not need to know it. Hopefully, by following these steps, you will not feel as if you are keeping important information from the company you hope to become more a part of, nor will you feel as if you are doing something to cause trouble for another.

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