If you learn about an employee job search through a legitimate source (i.e. a phone call asking for employment verification), you can legally ask an employee if they’re job hunting. If you should hear of it through the rumor mill, by searching the employee’s social media page, or by finding their resume on a job site, you cannot approach the employee.
The more important question is SHOULD you ask and if so, HOW.
If this is a valuable employee, then you may want to have a conversation explaining that you received the employment verification request and were wondering if they are searching for a new job. If they are, you can ask why and see if you can offer some reason for them to stay. You may not be able to meet their demands, but it could help ease the transition out when they do leave.
If you are not going to be sad to see the employee leave or the employee is angry or vindictive, perhaps you bide your time and quietly start looking for their replacement.
Regardless of what action you take, make sure you are not taking adverse employment action against them as this could violate state law and get you in even more trouble.
Affinity HR Group is BSCAI's endorsed HR partner, providing HR support, recruiting and employee engagement services. For a link to our menu of services for BSCAI members, go to www.AffinityHRGroup.com/BSCAI