Job Doc

Neighbor’s past is cause for concern at work

By Patricia Hunt Sinacole
Globe Correspondent / March 20, 2011

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Q. I am working as a contractor for a small start-up. I hope to be hired by them soon. I have a dilemma though. They are interviewing my former neighbor, who I know spent time in jail for fraud. Do I have an obligation to inform this company?

A. Let’s explore your legal obligations first. I consulted Jeffrey A. Dretler, partner at the law firm of Prince Lobel Glovsky & Tye LLP. Dretler said you are probably under no obligation to disclose the information or keep it confidential. Still, your decision holds consequences.

Assume you disclose this information and your neighbor does not receive a job offer. Your neighbor could discover that you informed the company, and then sue for interference with prospective advantageous relations or even defamation, Dretler said. If your information was true, and you were motivated by the belief that the company’s interests were best served by disclosure, rather than by malice, your neighbor would not succeed in court, Dretler said.

Alternatively, assume you don’t say anything. If a problem surfaces and the company finds out you knew about this person, it may reflect poorly on you.

I would hope you would disclose this information to the human resources officer, hiring manager, or chief executive. Be clear you are making the disclosure with the best interests of the company in mind, not because of any personal malice. Ask them to verify what you report to eliminate any possible misinformation. Do not spread this information to people who do not need to know. Hopefully, by following these steps, you will not feel as if you are keeping important information from the company, nor that you are doing something to cause trouble for another.

Patricia Hunt Sinacole is chief executive of First Beacon Group, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.