what is you reference policy?

I'm interested in what people do as a policy for references for former employees. Do you only confirm dates and position? Do you do more?

I constantly struggle with this, and know the reasons for each position, and am always interested in where others stand on this.

If this has been addressed recently please let me know. I looked back a little and didn't find anything.



  • 19 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • We only give dates, position and will confirm ending pay - and only then with a signed release from the EE.
  • I provide relevant info if EE has signed my release form. I think it is the right thing to do. Not only does it reward EEs that have earned praise, it reinforces that poor perfoming EEs have a responsibility to improve or perhaps that they may be in the wrong career.

    Maybe I am a little naive, but I think it can also help make the world a better place when we are honest & straightforward with each other, even helping those in other companies we may never meet (like this forum).

    That said, I also have very little turnover & had very few poor EEs so most references have been positive & I've haven't had to defend one in court yet. If I get sued it may cause me to rethink my position.

    Hope this helps.
  • The thing of it is, it is not just you that would get sued. It is the company. The right thing to do comes in layers of perspective. From the standpoint of protecting the company, the right thing to do is to minimize exposure.
  • "I" includes the Co. and I am very protective of it, that's why I require my own release form. A release from the potential company requesting info may not meet my protection requirements.

    I understand your position, Marc but if YOU were hiring or even applying for a position after working for us, wouldn't you want employment related info from me to help you make your hiring decision or to help you get the job you applied for?

    I know you can have it both ways, get the info for your use without giving any but by limiting it to just employment-related with a release I feel the exposure is less then a termination, disciplinary actions or any of the other items we deal with regularly.

    So I can get a reality check on my position, how many of you think we should only give out the basics?
  • To Toto (looks like the address line for a spam email):

    As to your question about employment related information - I would not want you to do that if my experience with the company was not up to par. In fact, I would do what the original applicant did - I would ask you to not contact them. Of course, this benefits me if you honor the request.

    Then when you get the info from the company, and you talk to me about it, how do you know I am telling you the truth? Fact is, people will spin the tale such that the company was a knowing front for Evil Deeds, and I was a warrior in the cause for truth and justice ----- regardless of the truth.

    That is why, for key positions, I require the interviewed candidates to bring in the last couple of evaluations from the company. That makes it harder to spin the story.
  • >The thing of it is, it is not just you that
    >would get sued. It is the company. The right
    >thing to do comes in layers of perspective.
    >From the standpoint of protecting the company,
    >the right thing to do is to minimize exposure.

    While the right thing to do may be to minimize exposure, limiting the references you give to "name, rank and serial number" will not always achieve that goal. There are a lot of misconceptions about giving references, and one is that an employer will be liable if it says anything negative about a former employer. Liability for defamation or similar claims only exists if the information revealed is *false*. So in order to minimize liability exposure, it's not necessary to refuse to give useful references. Rather, employers should make sure that the information they give is completely truthful (avoid exaggerations, such as "she was never on time," or "he wouldn't do anything his supervisors told him" - instead point to issues that can be supported by documentation, such as, "in the last three months she worked for us, she received four warnings for tardiness").

    In addition, employers typically are protected from defamation suits due to "qualified privilege," which applies where a) the employer believed in good faith that the information given was true at the time it was given; b) the information served a legitimate business purpose; and c) the information was provided only to an appropriate person who had a legitimate business interest in receiving the information. To ensure that b) and c) apply, you may wish to consider responding only to written references, since you may not know over the phone whether the person calling is the person he or she claims to be. Getting releases, as several here have mentioned, is also an excellent idea and generally will protect the company from liability.

    Finally, as others have pointed out here, there are some situations in which you may be exposing your company to potential liability by *not* providing a truthful reference. Many jurisdictions allow claims of negligent misrepresentation or negligent referral, where a former employer can be held liable if it failed to provide information in response to a reference inquiry which could have warned a prospective employer about a potential problem, which later ends up happening. In other words, if an employee had been disciplined for incidents of workplace violence, and you fail to disclose that to a prospective employer who asks for a reference, your company could be liable for negligent misrepresentation if that employee becomes violent and harms someone at his next place of employment.

    Reference-checking is often the easiest and best way that you can verify what an applicant tells you and get valuable information about prospective employees. When we check references, we want people to be candid with us and give useful information. We should provide that same courtesy to our fellow HR folks. It's very possible to minimize exposure to the company without resorting to a ban on employee references, and, in my opinion, that's what we should strive for. Granted, it may take a little more work than essentially hanging up on anyone who calls for a reference, but in the long run, I think the benefits far outweigh the risks.
  • missk,
    You have provided a lot of detail and very thoughtful comments. Thanks. I don’t know if this is your first posting like it shows as a total (if it is, welcome), but I hope you continue to contribute to the forum.
  • Aw, thanks, Toto. And yes, this was my first posting. It may be hard for me to find time to keep up with all the posts here, but I'm sure there will be other times I feel compelled to butt in with my $.02. :-)

    >You have provided a lot of detail and very
    >thoughtful comments. Thanks. I don’t know if
    >this is your first posting like it shows as a
    >total (if it is, welcome), but I hope you
    >continue to contribute to the forum.

  • Similar to Marc, I give dates and position over the phone and will confirm pay with signed release. I never respond to performance or reliability questions.
  • If the employee was a great employee and most of ours are, I give references and I will be fairly specific. Like has been said, I think they have earned that reference.

    If the employee was marginal or worse, I will only give name and dates of employment first and then I just wait to see if the person requesting the reference wants more info. Often they say "thanks" and hang up.

    If they begin asking for performance information I will usually refer to what is documented in the employee's file.

    I also qualify the information. If an employee worked here for one summer and struggled when they were 19, I dont think that six years later that reference should carry as much weight as more recent employment.

    Employers are protected when they offer references that are made in good faith, to an appropriate person, on employment related matters.

    A good worker deserves a good reference. A bad worker deserves the consequences of a bad reference. At least, that is my opinion.
  • Paul, how large is your company? Do you have personal knowledge of each employee?

    Also, for any of you in larger companies, do you allow phone or written references by the employee's direct supervisor (or others) or do all references go to HR?

  • Hi, Caroliso

    I work for a very large company. In the US, we tell our supervisors that they are NOT to provide employment references, and to direct all inquiries to HR.

    In some countries, there is a legal requirement to provide a letter of reference at the end of employment. We do, of course, comply with those laws, but they are coordinated within the local HR group.

    Lisa in Texas
  • Were a fairly small organization (60 FT, 100 seasonal, and 35 part-time employees) and yes I generally do have personal knowledge of each person and their job performance.

    If am not sure I will consult with a supervisor prior to giving the reference and check the ee's file.

    In ten years I have never had any problems. I also communicate very clearly to our staff that we DO provide references which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on what level of effort an employee plans to put into their job.

    For younger employees, these references are crucial for them as they begin to build their careers. I know that my positive, performance related reference has helped at least a dozen of my former employees land a good job, if not more.
  • This is a small town, and I know many of the other employers. They might call and I may very well give them a candid reference on a former employee. We are also small enough here so that I know each and every employee.

    If an employee goes off out of state or to an employer I have no knowledge of, then I would take the safer minimum approach.
  • I have also only given lengths of employment and position. I will give latest salary with a signed release. I will give a personal reference if the employee asks me prior to leaving (which has only happened twice in 15 years) and I feel they deserve the recognition. Other than that, dates and position only.
  • we only respond to written request and provide start date, end date, position title. Pay if its for a financial institution.
  • We do the exact same thing as gingerflwrs.

    I hate it though, because former employers are now so timid to release any information that is actually useful to the hiring employer. The legal issues surrounding references have now tied HR's hands behind their backs for fear of a lawsuit. I truly believe you should be able to tell a prospective employer exactly what type of employee someone is. I know I would wish that for myself!

    Anyways, off the soapbox now. I'm thinking of having employees sign release agreements upon hire/termination regarding the content of any references given by the company...wishful thinking...xpray
  • We recently revised our reference policy. I can you email you a copy of it. What is your email address?

  • You might want to check for statutes in your state, for example; in the state of Indiana there is a statute that holds the employer harmless for stating something that is factual, in print, and signed by the employee. In other words if it is a fact you can tell anyone that may ask during a reference check.

    Another sure fired way is this; during your employee indoctrination while the employee is completing paperwork have a form that says you will respond to reference checks with anything in the employee's folder either positive or negative so long as it is documented and signed by the employee.

    I wish we would all keep in mind that as HR professionals we have to rely on one another to be honest with employee references. Don't forget that even though you give dates of hire and termination you could still be held liable if an employee had done something that injured other employees, customers or by-standers and you did not tell the person checking a reference. Example; if you didn't tell someone that you had a delivery driver that hit and killed a pedestrian and was cited for reckless driving or especially if under the influence and that employer hired that employee which did the same thing and it was uncovered you could be held liable. This would be the same for child molesters in a school system or day care etc.

    The best way it to let the employee know up front that you will share anything in writing. Then that employee has the opportunity to turn down the job because of your reference policy. Otherwise by signing they are giving their approval (if you specify it in the document) for you to give out that information.

    Good luck - SteveG
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