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What information should employers provide for a job reference?

When it comes to lawsuits being filed against Michigan businesses, many might think that only extraordinary circumstances or major events are the subject of the legal claims. In reality, Michigan businesses can find themselves on the other side of a lawsuit after the most ordinary of daily events takes place.

A good example of this is with employment law. Hirings, firings and other personnel moves may be fairly routine for a business, but these events are ripe for legal disputes, even well after the employee is no longer working for the company.

For instance, businesses are frequently called upon to give a job reference for a former employee. If employers give a bad reference for the employee, the employee might end up suing the business for defamation. On the other hand, employers who provide good references could still be sued if it is alleged they left out information that was essential information. Employers might be held liable for negligent referral if they did not provide information about an employee's violent behavior or misconduct.

Given these pitfalls, job referrals are a frequent source of employment law cases. Accordingly, employers should have a uniform policy in place to instruct their managers about providing job references. When possible, employers should provide limited information, such as only verifying the dates of employment and positions that were held by the former employee. The information provided should be verifiable, as opposed to subjective information.

Other companies choose to have their employees sign releases that consents to the employer providing information to other parties. Ultimately, businesses should understand the legal issues involved in giving references, particularly when there are special issues that arise with a given employee.

Source: Tampa Bay Business Journal, "USF case and how job references - good and bad -are tricky for ex-employers," Frances McMorris, Dec. 11, 2015

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