Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Bosses Face New Risks: Defamation Suits

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Bosses Face New Risks: Defamation Suits

Article excerpt

Disgruntled employees are adding to the nation's litigation explosion by bringing defamation suits against former bosses who give them bad references or refuse to give references at all. An article in the July issue of Nation's Business claims that it can be a lose-lose situation.

The problem arises when a personnel manager is called for a reference on a former employee. If he truthfully reveals that the worker was a chronic problem, the employee can claim his future employment chances were hurt and file a defamation suit. If the company chooses a more conservative course of action and refuses to give any reference at all, it can be held liable for "negligent referral." So what is a company to do in a vigorously aggressive litigious society?

There are laws to protect both employers and employees, but with the high cost of lawsuits and the unpredictability of juries, the experts say it is wise to strengthen personnel procedures to avoid them.

Gregory J. Malovance, employment-relations attorney for Chicago's Winston & Stawn firm, recommends:

Have one person or department advise all other employees that they could be personally liable for comments they might make.

Require that all inquiries and responses be made in writing and keep file copies.

If additional information is requested, state that company policy forbids additional disclosures.

Keep information about employee termination confidential and on a "need to know" basis.

Avoid a selective reference policy in which you provide favorable references but decline to respond where negative comments were warranted.

The prudent way to avoid defamation suits is to screen carefully all potential employees. Even so, a problem worker can slip through and companies should be prepared to defuse the situation and anticipate the unexpected.

QUESTION: After working for my boss for six years, he became abusive and difficult to work for. He appeared to have a personality change. I tried to discuss his behavior with him and get to the root of the problem without success. I gave a two-weeks notice and quit my job. What do I say on job interviews as to why I left my previous job? …

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