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How An Employee Reference Can Land You In Court

I am old enough to remember the days when you could give an honest assessment of an ex-employee when contacted by another potential employer. Today, if you get that referral call and you are completely open with your opinion, you can get sued.
 
I know of several cases where a person didn't get a job because the old employer said unflattering things about the person. The individual then went and got lawyers, sued and succeeded in getting money awarded in court.
 
So, it's important for you to know what you can and cannot say when you're contacted for a referral. Here is the short list of information you can safely provide:
  • Dates the employee worked for you.
  • Job title when they started working for you.
  • Job title when they left your employ.
  • Are they eligible for rehire; yes or no only.
That's it. Nothing more.
 
If you feel strongly enough about someone that you would like to be able to give them more of a reference than this, you can write a letter of recommendation. Should you choose to do so, I suggest that you provide the letter to the employee at the time they are leaving your school, not later when they are applying for a job elsewhere. I would also recommend that you keep the recommendation letter as factual as possible. Use it to enumerate the person's positive qualities as an employee (e.g. punctuality, team work, versatility in working with various ages of children, etc.).
 
As Joe Friday from Dragnet would say, "The facts, ma'am, just the facts.
 
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