Reference Check Response

A reader writes…

Dear Anita,
I was recently asked to respond to a reference check for a former employee.  How much information am I obligated to provide?

Dear, “Contacted,”

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. A standard reference check asks for the following information (job seekers… pay attention!):
    Confirmation of:
    – 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. susan
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 10:50:03

    Hello Anita,
    In your statement above, you said that it’s best to let HR handle the references. But you gotta understand that they get their info. from the employers. Which, can be false information about an employee, just because they were mad at them, or they needed to find a reason to let them go. And had someone to tell a lie on them, to get them fired. That is what happen to me, and to this day, it’s been hard for me to get a job.It may be due to the employers calling for references ( even though ) I tell them not to, because I know they would give me a bad references. With this being said, I thought, companies were not allowed to express ” certain characteristics” about a former employee. Just everything else you have listed.



  2. M. Capriola
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:09:06

    “It’s called ‘Human Resources’ because they’re meant to be strip-mined.” — Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert”

    One of my previous employers has a policy of not giving out any verbal or written recommendations, whether positive or negative. They’re probably worried about liability.



  3. Francis
    Sep 02, 2011 @ 07:36:07

    Querida anita el motivo de mi comentario es que ase un ano yo aplique en tu agencia para que me consiguieran trabajo pero cada ves que llamo me disen que no tienen nada me ponen en una lista de espera y asi a pasado todo el tiempo yo kisiera saber si es por mi edad o por la distancia que no trabajo para niguna compania a hora en este tiempo estoy estudiando medica assisten yo nesecito con urgencia un trabajito anque sea par-tay por favor ayuda
    Francis M.



  4. Artina Graves
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 16:11:07

    I have to ask also if you revert to HR how can the employer be sure you skills are what you say they are. The verification process is to make sure you can do your job and can HR really relate that information.



  5. AM
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 13:36:55

    I am interested in the other side of this as one who may be seeking references. I have left several jobs on bad terms and am not sure how best to address this, especially as some companies want to talke to all previous employers, rather than references. I can try to pick people I think will be good references, but if they insist on talking to my last employer, there may be a problem.



  6. denver dave
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 08:32:47

    in response to, lord know what kind of employee your former employee has become over time, barring addictions or the onset of mental illness, people always follow patterns and habits. if they are clearly a good employee, they will probably remain so. if bad, same thing. when i was in research and investigation i was taught the primary rule is always follow patterns of behavior.thats why there are references to begin with. people establish patterns and generally follow them life long.



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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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