by Patrick Mortimer

Employee Rights Attorney

Mission Viejo, California

Q: “My son has been unemployed for 10 months. He was last employed as a computer programmer with a large company, making an excellent salary. But he was let go, I suspect, because he went on a drinking binge and did not report for work.

“He is intelligent and a quick learner, but has had problems in the past with alcohol. Currently, he does not have a driver’s license.

“When considering whether to hire an employee, can a company check on this type of information?”

A: “While it is customary for companies to investigate the background of prospective employees, it is illegal for employers to base hiring decisions on discriminatory reasons. That is why it is not advisable for an employer to ask employees questions that even hint of discrimination.

“If your son’s problem with alcohol is so severe that it amounts to a disease or disability, it may be inappropriate for the employer to base an employment decision on questions related to it.

“Employers ask previous employers about the background of prospective employees. Most employers will not reveal the exact reasons for termination, restricting their response to job title and duration of employment. You might want to have one of your son’s friends call his previous employer to see what they are saying about him. If it is anything inappropriate, you can warn the former employer to stop such misrepresentations or face possible legal liability.

“The employer may also check certain public records, such as with the Department of Motor Vehicles, or local district attorneys’ offices to evaluate an applicant’s driving record. An employer also can ask a prospective employee if he or she has been convicted of a crime.

“In the end, it is very difficult to determine how an employer makes its decision to hire an employee. An applicant should simply strive to prevent the use of inappropriate or misleading information in the evaluation process.”