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EMPLOYMENT REFERENCES: BEYOND NAME, RANK, AND SERIAL NUMBER
Although criminal background checks and credit reports have an important place in hiring, they don’t protect you from hiring someone who has no criminal history or financial problems, but is simply a poor performer. Many firms provide only name, rank, and serial number on employee references, with no comments about qualifications or performance, to avoid being sued for defamation.

However, in the past few years, most states have adopted laws that afford employers substantial protection in these situations. When you need to get or give a reference, you can cite these laws to encourage open dialogue and help prevent you from hiring a lazy, incompetent, dishonest, or counterproductive employee — or even a dangerous one who could harm a third party and trigger a negligent-hiring suit against your organization.

Protect your rights by including, in your employment application or in a separate document, a release that the applicant must sign that acknowledges a previous employer’s right (and your right, at any time) to discuss their job performance, reasons for separation, and whatever else state law allows. Cite the law. Faxing a copy of the signed release to previous employers might make the difference in your ability to have a candid conversation with them. 

Don Phin
Other articles by: Don Phin
Categories: Human Resources, Compliance, EPLI
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