Reference Check Verification of Employment Policy

How to Address Employment References and Verification of Employment

HR manager answers questions as an employer calls to verify employment of a former employee
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If you work for a company or organization with a Human Resources department, the chances are good that your company will have a policy about who can respond to a request for a reference. Your company is also likely to specify how to respond to a request for a reference.

Companies do this to control the flow of information that is available to outsiders, even prospective employers. They are concerned about lawsuits, libel charges, and interfering with the job prospects of either a positively remembered employee or an employee who was a poor fit for their organization.

It is legal for an employer to truthfully share information about a former employee. This information can include such specifics as job titles and general content of the jobs, dates of employment, and salary earned by the former employee.

They may also legally tell the prospective employer whether they would rehire the individual, why the employee left their employment, and general examples and observations about how the individual performed. As long as what they tell the prospective employer is truthful, and especially if they have documentation of the facts that they share, a lawsuit is a long shot.

However, in the litigious U.S., where people can sue anyone for anything at any time, former employers are understandably wary about what information they share with a prospective employer. 

Employers are also concerned about the skill of the employee who answers questions about a former employee.

People who do background checking for a living or who work in HR departments  are skilled at obtaining information from untrained employees - maybe more than you want the employee to share with a prospective employer - or anyone. 

Untrained employees also fall into the trap of giving opinions that are not based on facts and solid evidence.

This can affect the chances of the former employee receiving a job offer from the potential employer.

These are several of the reasons why sample policies such as the one that follows are becoming so common in organizations.

Reference Check Sample Policy

All employment reference check inquiries from current or former employees, prospective employers of current or former employees or other organizations should be directed to Human Resources for an official company response. Under no circumstances is any other employee authorized to provide a written or official employment reference for the company.

All requests for employment references or employment verification must contain the employee's or former employee’s signature authorizing the release of information. When the signature is present, generally, your company releases this information about current and former employees:

  • whether the individual is currently employed at Your Company,
  • the employee’s current or last job title,
  • the dates of employment at Your Company, and
  • the current or final salary paid to the employee.

Depending on the circumstances of the request, and input from the past or current employee, the company might release salary history, job title history, and whether the company would rehire the employee.

Exceptions to this policy must be approved by the President of (Your Company).

Final Thoughts

It behooves today's organizations to have in place policies that determine what - if anything - employees can share with prospective employers about former employees. You'll want to have studied the situation, written the policy, and trained all employees in how to apply the policy to themselves.

As with any policy, additionally, obtain sign-offs from employees that they have received and understand the policy. It is then up to management and Human Resources staff to follow up to make sure employees follow the policy.

Disclaimer – Please Note:

Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.

The site has a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country, so the site cannot be definitive on all of them for your workplace. When in doubt, always seek legal counsel or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. The information on this site is for guidance, ideas, and assistance only.