former-employee-240px-76806709Small business owners will often get phone calls about former employees, regarding their work performance. The issue is more complicated than just answering questions about the job someone did. The wrong answers can lead to serious consequences, even litigation.

Here are some steps for employers to consider in dealing with requests for information about former employees:

Get professional input. Small business owners should discuss how to respond to reference requests with their attorney.
Check state law. Does the state law protect employers from civil liability when providing factual, work-related information about former employees?
Obtain permission from former employees. Get written permission from prospective new employees giving permission to release work-related information. This should be done before releasing any information at all. This also releases former employers and supervisors from liability for providing factual work-related information to prospective new employers.
Ask departing employees for help. When employees leave employment, ask them to help write their job references. Have an exit interview with each departing employee. Show them a written summary of their performance. Inform employees that the summary serves as a job reference if two conditions are met: the employee gives written approval for the summary; and in the future, the employee mails the employer a signed statement releasing the summary to a prospective employer.
Stick to the facts. Never share personal feelings and opinions about former employees. Only give prospective employers with objective, factual work-related information such as the individual’s dates of employment, positions and duties employed; hourly rates or salary, and whether or not the employee would be rehired in the future.
Avoid giving information over the phone. It is best is for information requests to be in writing, and best to respond to them in writing also. This way the business owner can review responses with an attorney or a human resources professional. The company and its managers will have time to carefully consider the information, and there is a written document to support a defense in case of related future litigation.

To help reduce an organization’s liability, the company’s owner and managers should do an audit of all the documents employees get in writing. This includes things like employee handbooks, job applications, notes, memos, and messages. Make sure employment policies are clear and do not conflict with one another.

To learn more about how to handle information requests about former employees, contact Filler & Associates.