Now that the merger of Wells Fargo and Wachovia is complete, Wells Fargo has decided to terminate 175 Wachovia employees who were previously Wells Fargo employees. They do not meet Well Fargo’s employment criteria based upon their history with Wells Fargo, said a spokesman. The 175 employees were less than 10% of the 2,000 former Wells Fargo employees at Wachovia.

Bruce Kelly and Dan Jamieson at called it “a move that smacks of corporate retribution.” Obviously, these aren’t experienced HR pros. (In fairness, Workforce picked up the story from sister publication Investment News but I’m surprised that someone at Workforce didn’t catch that.)

Kris Dunn at The HR Capitali$t got it right: “Now, think about the employees who have left your company.  Fair to say, if you were faced with a hire/rehire decision, that you would pass on 10% of your former employees?

There’s an old HR joke that to gain market share a company should identify its poorest performers and give them glowing referral letters for positions at their nearest competitors. Maybe Wells Fargo took that line seriously… and maybe it kind of worked.

I wonder if Wachovia called Wells Fargo to check the employment references of these 175 people? I wonder what Wells Fargo would have said. Probably would have told them to check the Work Number. Happens every day.

What if Wachovia had then sent a certified letter to Wells Fargo HR specifically asking whether there were ever any reasons to question the former employee’s integrity? Or whether the employee ever failed to follow a company policy and in doing so caused a financial or data loss to the bank? Or did the employee ever act in a coercive, threatening, or violent manner? In other words, is there anything we need to know before we put this person in a position of trust?

These may seem like classic CYA questions. However, one of the core questions in every negligent hiring case is whether the employer made reasonable attempts to obtain relevant information about the individual’s background.

I would bet that at least one of those former Wells Fargo employees was terminated for theft or fraud. Had Wachovia subsequently been sued by a customer for some breach of integrity on the part of that employee, documentation that they tried to obtain performance information might have helped mitigate Wachovia’s liability – it might even have transferred some liability to Wells Fargo.

Let me reiterate: this is all hypothetical in relation to these banks.

So, what would you do if you received such an interrogatory from a potential employer of a known high-risk former employee? Where would you draw the line?

Mike Coffey is President of Imperative Information Group, a Fort Worth, Texas-based background investigations and business due diligence firm dedicated to clients who can’t afford a cheap background check. Email Coffey at For more information about Imperative Information Group’s services, please call us at 877-HR-FACTS (877-473-2287) or visit us online at