Unfortunately that's too often the case when providing employee references. Say too much and the former employee can retaliate. Say too little, and you may be liable for not disclosing a potential problem to a future employer.
The fines for misleading information or unsubstantiated negative comments can be heavy. And juries tend to find on behalf of the employee. The reasons for this are complicated. In many cases, the employer was telling the truth about the employee but was unable to provide adequate documentation to back up their comments.
To help yourself stay out of court, or defend yourself if in court, remember the following:
- Be proactive by keeping good records. You can usually spot a problem employee at 50 paces, so why not be sure you have the forms and systems in place to document workplace behavior.
- Appoint a specific individual to reply to all requests for employment verification and references. Make sure that person understands your policy and the law, and stays current using state restaurant association
- Consider skipping references all together. In some states, if you give a reference, you are obligated to disclosure any information you have about potential physical violence, sexual harassment or other issues that would be of interest to another employer.
- Stick to name, rank, and serial number, and don't volunteer any extra information. Simply verify facts regarding dates of employment, wages, and job title — nothing more. And give out this information only if you have the employee's written consent (usually obtained in an exit interview) and accompanied by a signed release and a written request from the prospective employer.
- Formalize your policies and incorporate the proper forms into your personnel protocols. As always, have this information reviewed by your lawyer or the legal advisor of your state restaurant association before acting.
Another option is to outsource this process to a company such as InfoLink Screening Services, Inc. They have several affordable options available, and they take the work and responsibility out of your hands. Visit InfoLink's web site for more information.
Download a "Permission to Verify Employment Information" form to be used during an employee's exit interview. Once it has been filled out and signed, keep it on file. A comprehensive set of Employee Orientation Through Termination Protocols and Forms is available in our on-line store.
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