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What’s the Good Word? Legal Rules for Job References

Everything ends badly, the old saying goes, otherwise it wouldn’t end. And while that’s not always true in the small business world — sometimes you’re happy to see employees move on to bigger and better things — more often than not, the employer-employee relationship ends on a sour note. And if it does, that can complicate the process of providing a reference for your former worker.

So, what do you do? Tell the truth? Say nothing? Here are a few legal tips on keeping your job references above board, both when providing them for former employees and searching them for future ones.

1. How To: Avoid Getting Sued for a Negative Employee Reference

There’s that other old saying: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. And that can be good advice when it comes to employee references, if that employee left on bad terms. You can always warn a departing worker that you won’t provide a positive reference, and if their prospective employer comes calling to confirm their work history, you can keep the conversation confined to those details.

2. How to Handle References for Fired Employees

And if that employee left on the worst of terms, you may need to walk an even finer line. Obviously, you don’t want to be sued for defamation if you give a negative review of your former employee, so you may be tempted to just say good things. (After all, they’re not your problem anymore, right?) But beware — companies are facing more and more lawsuits for failing to disclose a former employee’s improper behavior. So giving a rave review to an employee fired for misconduct may also land you in legal trouble.

3. Top 5 Tips When Checking References

So, what if you’re on the other end, requesting references for a possible hire? Make sure to avoid any discriminatory questioning of the person’s references, and avoid personal references like family members entirely. Still, you’ll want to get as many former employment references as possible, and verify as much as you can about their employment history.

If you’d like more guidance for your job references, an experienced employment attorney is only a click or call away.

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