Magazine article Supervisory Management

Handling Reference Requests on Fired Employees

Magazine article Supervisory Management

Handling Reference Requests on Fired Employees

Article excerpt

With today's economy producing a large turnover of employees, one of the most troublesome elements of employment relations is giving the appropriate response to a reference request from a former employee who was either terminated or asked to resign.

Many supervisors are intimidated into silence by fear of lawsuits by former employees. The result? The "name, rank, and serial number" reference--which is a disservice to prospective employers.

Some supervisors, on the other hand, believe that expansive reference conversations can be held "off the record," and that this might be the best way to get around a sensitive reference request.

Both approaches are inappropriate in most cases. All companies, regardless of size, should have a formal system for handling the reference requests--one that promotes full disclosure of information. Managers and supervisors should be aware of the ramifications of discussing former employees outside this established system.

Are You Liable?

The greatest concern when responding to a reference request is liability for defamation, whether libel (written) or slander (oral). Reduced to its essence, defamation occurs when:

1. A false statement is made, either negligently or knowingly.

2. The false statement is made to a third person.

3. The statement is disparaging because it lowers the person's reputation.

Although truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim, it doesn't solve all the potential problems. For example, if a company gives out derogatory information about a former employee, there could be costly litigation even if the statements aren't false. …

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