Ask An HR Expert: Employee Reference Request

Today’s question is – How do you respond to an employee reference request?

Hi everyone my name is Stella Terry with Tandem HR. I received a question recently that is very common, so I thought I would share it with the group. The question centers around employee reference request. Should you respond to them? How do you respond? What should your policies say and who should really be doing these for your organization?

First, let’s talk about why this comes up as a common question. This centers around some exposure you may have in the realm of defamation claims. If you’ve given a negative employee reference request and the employee disagrees – this is where you might face a defamation claim. Here are some tips to keep you out of that situation.

Policy: You want to make sure that your policy states that any information requests go to HR. This will keep responses compliant and consistent.

Employee Consent: Receive it in writing. The employee reference request and response should also both be in writing.

Information Provided: Only give out dates of employment and position held. This information is factual, it’s objective, and it’s not based on opinion, so it is not going to get you in any trouble.

Now that we’ve talked policy let’s discuss times where you might need to make an exception.

If you receive a request for information that is for some sort of government security clearance or government position, you may have some additional obligation to provide information.

Also, if you’ve let an employee go for gross misconduct like abuse or neglect, sexual harassment, or workplace violence, these are all areas that you want to seek legal counsel because you may have an obligation to provide this information or you may be facing liability there as well.

Last, some things to keep in mind. We talked earlier about giving objective factual information in the form of dates of employment and position held, No matter what you do you want to make sure that you are not giving information that is based on opinion or is subjective. That’s really where you can find yourself in trouble. Never give out protected health information. This might come up if an employee has left due to a serious health condition. You want to make sure that information doesn’t get into the wrong hands. I hope I’ve given you some things to think about as it relates to employee reference requests.

Thank you for tuning in to today’s session of Ask An HR Expert.

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