Joe was a real pain, and you practically danced when he left your company. Now, another employer wants to know what you think of Joe.
Some companies, and HR managers, take the approach of only giving out barebones information, such as verifying dates of employment, just to stay out of legal trouble. That’s OK, but you don’t have to feel so boxed in when you get a request for a reference.
Consider three possible steps:
Warn problem employees at the exit interview. About half of all reference-request problems can be erased before the request is even made, by just warning the employee, “If contacted, we won’t be able to give you a positive reference.” That puts the employee on notice to go another route when mentioning references to a prospective employer.
Get a written release. Tell the employee that you require his or her signed release before giving out reference information. If the employee refuses to sign, your option is clear: Any requests for reference information should be met with: “I’m sorry, but Joe refused to give us the OK to give out information.”
Channel all reference requests through HR. Some managers may take offense to the idea that you’re denying them the chance to have their say about a former employee, so you’ll probably have to explain the reasons why:
- Some prospective employers may contact more than one person in your company, and you want to avoid giving out conflicting information.
- An incorrectly worded reference can be cause for a lawsuit. Sometimes even seemingly innocent and truthful statements can get twisted into damning evidence against an employer.