Best Practices when Serving as an Employee Reference Check

With a dire employment market, many former employees are getting paranoid about the information being provided by former employers and supervisors when the employee is trying to get hired elsewhere. If the employer provides untruthful information during the reference check process, it could result in a multitude of potential claims against the employer – e.g. slander, interference with prospective business.
Potential claims can easily be avoided. This is by assigning a single individual in your organization the responsibility of serving as a former employee reference check. Having a single person (preferably in the Human Resources Department, with Human Resources training, and access to/permission to access employee personnel records) serve in that role can ensure that a consistent message regarding factual information of the employment relationship between employer and all employees is communicated to the inquiring party. It also ensures that controversies concerning references can be quickly addressed (e.g. employee without permission to serve as reference check would be identified, corrective action issued, and false reference updated/revised, etc.).
In addition, you can more easily train and oversee a single person as they comply with best practices when it comes to serving as an employee reference check. Below, please find some simple to implement guidelines for this process (note, this information is provided to assist you to stay within the applicable legal boundaries when responding to reference inquiries):

  • Verify that the caller has a legitimate need for the information.
  • Limit your remarks to the inquiry.  Reply only with descriptions of job performance examples.
  • Exercise good judgment in determining what negative information should be volunteered when the reference seeker does not ask you specific questions related to an area of deficiency or poor work.  There are basically three different categories of negative information: (1) information that is not job-related, (2) information that is job-related but not critical to successful job performance, and (3) information that is critical to the performance of the job.
  • Provide complete and truthful information.
  • When giving negative information, give specific facts without labeling them negative.
  • Discuss both the positive and negative attributes of an individual.
  • Do not be more candid with family, friends, or former colleagues than you would be with others.

By engaging in a little preventative medicine, you can not only protect your company from potential claims of liability, but also ensure that all of your former employees are given a fair shot at finding their next career.