Providing Professional Work References on Current/Former Employees
The Vermont Reference Law (House Bill 264), effective July 1, 2011, grants civil immunity in specific cases to an employer that furnishes information about a current or former employee’s job performance to a prospective employer that requests it, provided the information is shared in good faith. While the law has specific application to individuals who are likely to have regular or unsupervised contact with a minor or vulnerable adult, The University of Vermont recognizes that the following guidelines represent sound business practice for providing any and all employment references.
It is important to note that the presumption of immunity in favor of the employer may be overcome, and the employer sued, if the employer discloses information which the employer knew or should have known was false, knowingly disclosed misleading information, or disclosed information in violation of the law. Faculty and staff are therefore expected to understand and carefully adhere to the following guidelines.
Job Performance is defined as:
- the suitability of the employee for employment;
- the employee's work-related duties, skills, abilities, attitude, effort, knowledge and habits as they may relate to suitability for future employment;
- the reasons for the employee’s separation (if applicable); and
- any illegal or wrongful act committed by the employee.
Guidelines for Providing Work References
- Be factual—avoid emotion. Stick to the facts and provide only job-related information. Never make false or malicious statements or include suspicions, accusations or exaggerations. Do not provide false flattery.
- Inquire as to the duties and responsibilities of the position. Focus on knowledge, skills and abilities as they relate to the vacancy. If requested, you may share job title, dates of employment, job duties/responsibilities and salary.
- Speak in terms of behaviors, not labels. (Rather than saying the employee had “poor work ethics,” say the employee “missed four important deadlines.” Avoid the use of words like “troublemaker,” “screwed-up” and “crazy.”)
- Provide an accurate, balanced reference. Speak to what the employee did well in addition to any problem areas.
- Provide relevant information. Employers may be held liable when they do not disclose information about a former employee which leads to the injury of a third party.
- Do not volunteer extra information. Address only the questions asked and avoid inappropriate conversation.
- Do not disclose personal information. Refrain from giving information related to medical history, family issues, residence, arrest record, religion, race, national origin, child care provisions, pregnancy status, sexual orientation, age or genetic information.
- Avoid providing negative information about an employee’s job performance if you did not make the employee aware of the performance problem. Do not provide information that the employee was not aware of or never had the opportunity to address.
- Only provide a work reference if you have direct knowledge of the employee. Never guess or rely on hearsay to respond to reference questions.
- Remind UVM hiring supervisors to contact Human Resource Services for internal employee performance appraisals and other job-related documentation. HRS may be reached at 656-3150 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Maintain consistency. Stick to published guidelines when providing references for all current or prior employees.
UVM’s Talent Acquisition Coordinator is available to discuss the provision of information for employment-related reference checks. Contact the Talent Acquisition Coordinator at 656-3107 or at email@example.com.