A reader writes…
I was recently asked to respond to a reference check for a former employee. How much information am I obligated to provide?
Providing a reference for a former employee may seem simple enough, but depending on the situation, things can get slippery. You need to make sure you’re protecting the best interests of your company – with so many lawsuits out there… a lot of managers avoid reference checks like the plague!
Consider the following:
- Consult with your Human Resources Department to see if a company policy is in place. If your reference is positive, you can certainly provide a verbal response.
- A standard reference check asks for the following information (job seekers… pay attention!):
– Job title
– Final salary or hourly wage
– Dates of employment
– Job responsibilities
-Occasionally, you may be asked about certain characteristics such as “reliability,” “working with others,” etc.
- Sometimes, you’ll be asked to provide a reference for an employee who worked for you so long ago that you don’t remember specific employment dates, wages, etc. For these reasons (and more), I recommend that you leave this process to your HR Department – they are more equipped to deliver accurate answers.
- If you choose to provide a written recommendation, I also advise that you pass it by HR for a quick review before sending. A written letter of recommendation can go a long way for someone looking for a new job. Here’s the rub… a written letter of recommendation can also be a little risky… particularly if it’s generic. When something is written, it can exist forever (and be photocopied multiple times). What was once a professional looking letter – signed by you – later becomes a faded mess. Lord knows what kind of employee your former employee has become over time. You also won’t have any idea how your letter is being used.
- If you receive a reference request for a former employee who left on bad terms… defer to HR. You should NEVER feel obligated to respond to questions you are uncomfortable answering.
As you can see by my list above, Human Resources is precisely that… a resource to assist you with these types of situations. Utilize them to help protect yourself and your company.
A note to job seekers… Most (if not all) potential employers will ask for employment references. Be prepared to provide this information and know that it WILL be checked (either with a former supervisor or – more likely – with your former HR Department.)
Hope this helps!