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Is it OK for an Employer to Have a Job Candidate Followed?

You are about to invest millions into luring a star performer into your organization. This guy's a rainmaker, a game-changer, with a proven track record of success.

To protect your investment, do you also investigate the star's activities away from work, maybe even have him followed?

"I was a little freaked out," said star outfielder Carl Crawford on being told by his new employer, the Boston Red Sox, that the club did some off-the-field investigating into the player's character and "decision-making" before signing him to a $142 million contract last December.

Theo Epstein, who runs baseball operations for the Red Sox, told a Boston radio station some details of the operation. "The more we dug on him, and we covered him as if we were privately investigating him. ... We had a scout on him literally the last three, four months of the season at the ballpark, away from the ballpark," he was quoted as saying in a report on ESPN.com.

UPDATE: Epstein denies the Red Sox followed Crawford away from the field.)
Away from the ballpark? As if privately investigating him? Epstein said later he regretted using the privately investigating remark. Responding to a reporter's follow-up inquiry, Epstein e-mailed, "[We] felt like we got to know him real well, that's all. I told him we got to know him real well and we really respected the decisions he made, even away from the park,"

Just to be clear, Crawford still signed with the ballclub after the events were revealed to him. But he told reporters on Tuesday: "I definitely look over my shoulder now a lot more than what I did before. Just when he told me that, the idea of him following me everywhere I go, was kind of, I wasn't comfortable with that at all."

Acknowledging we don't know the details of this case, let's pursue a hypothetical where a potential employer has a job candidate followed, justified in their mind by the huge compensation and risk involved. Is this OK behavior? For me, I land on the "creepy" side of the argument.

Every employer, of course, must perform increased due diligence before making key hires. This would certainly involve interviewing associates, acquaintances and former managers. Of course you would use Google or other search services to pry up public reports that speak to the strengths or weaknesses of the candidate. I would even support drug testing for some jobs. And if the position is important to national security, well, all bets are off. In all these cases, the candidate should have a reasonable expectation of background checks.

But being secretly tailed is not something most job candidates would reasonably expect (or accept). What does it say about the culture or character of an organization that it is willing to ignore a person's right to privacy? What else might it be willing to do in the name of protecting the financial interests of stakeholders?

Thanks for the job offer, but no thanks.

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