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That employee (who is no longer working for you) is out looking for another job. He is going to give his new company your name and number, and you are going to be asked for a reference. Good employee or bad, you are stepping into a minefield when you answer your phone.
For fear of being sued by former employees, many bosses will report only positives about a previous employee but clam right up about any negatives. This, as it turns out, can be an even more dangerous path to take. A Company who hires an employee because it was NOT told of any negative aspects of an employee’s behavior may be able to successfully sue the previous employer for not revealing the ugly truth. It really seems like everybody’s middle name is “Sue” these days. What can an employer do to stay out of some lawyer’s gun sights?
There are strategies that make some sense for today. If you are asked for a reference, you may be able to give a neutral response with little or no detail included. If, for example, the employee’s work-related behavior was not harmful or threatening to others – but that worker was simply unreliable or unproductive - you might simply be able to state “we would not re-hire the person if a position was available”. If the employee’s behavior was dangerous or detrimental to the company or the safety or well-being of others, you are compelled to be honest and factual in all you say. Most states protect you with a form of immunity from legal action if you are completely factual in providing relevant information. Make sure you are consistent in how you treat all employees, and make extra sure that there are written records supporting what you reveal.
It is always a good idea to have an official policy regarding references that is well-communicated to all employees before hand. This way, the employee knows what will be revealed well before they decide to leave your company for another. Your best bet is to remember two absolute rules: Never try to “blackball” a former employee, and never volunteer unsolicited information about any former employee.
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