Guest Author - Dianne Walker
They canít say that, can they? Many job seekers do not worry about what former employers are saying about them until itís time to apply for a job Ė otherwise known as a reference. Why? Almost all potential employers check references. When itís time to look for a job, the worry then becomes, ďcan they legally say that about me?Ē What exactly is legal and what is allowed when it comes to providing references for former employees?
There is a big difference between what employers can legally say and what is actually, simply a company policy. Human Resources create policies in order to protect employers from lawsuits, that is why most companies refuse to provide information over and above your previous title, salary and dates of employment.
A company, however, does not need protection if they share that you were terminated for theft when it is documented proof. So itís important to know that employers can say virtually anything about you, even the bad stuff as long as itís documented by the company. Itís not slander if itís the truth.
Take a look at the flip-side, however, for the person giving the reference. Sure, you can pretty much say what you want as long as you are stating a documented fact or an honest assessment of a former employeeís work. It almost sounds like you have been given carte-blanch to say what you want, right? Wrong! If your company has a specific policy not to provide references, or restricts the information you can provide, you would do well to take heed. You stand the chance of getting fired, not because you gave a bad (or good) reference, but because you provided a reference in the first place. Itís important for you to understand your company policies on providing references, whether youíre a supervisor or not.
What happens when you are the one calling for a reference? Sometimes it almost feels like some sort of victory dance should happen when you find a reference that will provide actual information. What happens if you receive a negative reference? If you use the information to make a hiring decision that violates the federal-protected categories such as race/color, national origin, sex or religion you may very well find yourself caught in the headlights of a fast moving lawsuit.
The bottom line, as a job seeker, the time to think about references is well before the time that you need them. Cultivate professional relationships within the organization and let your work speak for itself. By doing these simple things, you set yourself up to have a great reference for future jobs.
For employers, sure, feel free to spout off about your former employee. You just may become a former employee as well. Know your company policy.