Just how tricky is it to give references about former employees? A pending lawsuit in New Jersey shows how not to talk about former workers.
Michael Oliveri was having a hard time finding a new job after he was fired from a Best Buy store in New Jersey.
He became suspicious after job offers from Circuit City and Target were withdrawn.
Oliveri created a fake e-mail account, making it appear he was an employee of Target. Then, posing as a Target employee, he asked for a “candidate reference for Michael Oliveri.”
This is the response Oliveri received from Best Buy HR: “I will give you the skinny on him but you can’t say you got any info from Best Buy or we can be sued. Just don’t hire him. He was hired as GM and demoted after 12 months or so because he sucked. Again, do not forward this email to anybody or say where you heard the info from because we were not allowed to give this info out, but I would hate you to get stuck with this guy.”
Well, turns out the Best Buy HR rep was right about two things: Oliveri is now suing the company, and she probably should have stuck to the corporate policy on reference checks.
New Jersey law prohibits interference with a prospective employment relationship.
Oliveri wants $100,000 in damages, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Courts OK factual, negative references
Lawsuits like this one has made some companies so skittish about giving references that they’ve severely limited what their HR staff people can say when asked for one.
You probably know about companies that draw the line at length of service and job description.
But policies like those do all companies a disservice. If all companies had that policy, workplaces looking for new hires would never be able to find any useful information about job applicants.
The good news for employers is that courts having been ruling for them in similar cases brought by former employees.
A recent Connecticut court ruled in favor of a company that gave a negative reference for a former employee. The judge said companies can’t be punished for giving negative references, as long as they’re honest and without malice.
And the Connecticut ruling was based on similar ones in 19 other states.
Whether “he sucked” was honest and without malice in the New Jersey Best Buy case will be up to the judge.