Recent legal trends make reference checks a tightrope walk. On one hand, the courts increasingly recognize companies' responsibility for their employees' actions. On the other hand, courts have begun extending new privacy rights to employees, so employers must watch what they ask. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has just updated its Reference Checking Handbook (37 pages; $20 plus shipping; call 800-444-5006), which explains the importance of checking references properly and shows how to do it. It discusses the proper uses of credit records, criminal histories, driving records, and more. It also includes a list of questions you must not ask. Unlike many hiring resources, SHRM's doesn't ignore genuine complexities.

* * *