Providing Employment References
If you've had employees who left your business, you can expect prospective
employers to contact you at some point for information about them. Employment
references are one of an employer's most effective tools for verifying
information that a job applicant provides, and for determining whether an
applicant is qualified to successfully perform the job.
job reference requirements: several states have laws that may require an
employer to provide letters concerning past employment services to former
employees upon their request.
risk: before you or anyone else in your business responds to an
employment reference request, you must realize that certain types of
statements about former employees may form the basis for lawsuits against
you. Your primary risk is that the former employees may claim that your
statements are false and damaging to their reputations and sue you for
legal pitfalls: unfavorable statements also may cause you to incur legal
costs in defending suits for invasion of privacy, violations of state
blacklisting laws, and similar claims.
employment reference risks: your best policy may be to determine what
employment information you can safely provide and what steps you should take
in actually providing that information to limit your risk of being sued.
However, the bottom line is that the decision is yours to make as to what
amount of information, if any, you will provide in response to reference
There is one situation when you may have a legal obligation
to provide information about a former employee to a prospective
employer. Assume that you know that a former employee has a
history of criminal violence or extremely aggressive behavior.
Another employer approaches you for a reference in connection
with a job that would have your former employee working closely
with members of the public. Must you disclose what you know
about the employee's past conduct? What if you're not sure that
the information is true? Your risk in remaining silent is that
you could be sued for negligently failing to disclose the
information if the former employee were to subsequently harm
someone while on the job. On the other hand, you could be sued
for defamation if you do disclose the information and it turns
out not to be true. Faced with this type of situation, you
should consult an attorney to determine what, if anything, you
may be obligated to disclose.