Q & A – How should the company handle references for an employee terminated for violence?

Q: How should the company handle references for an employee terminated for violence?

A: Most employers have established a process for providing references about former employees.  It is generally recommended that employers follow this process.  Employers may, however, feel compelled to deviate from their processes due to concerns about a potentially violent or violent former employee.  Employers considering doing this should consult with legal counsel first.

Many employers limit the information they provide in reference requests for former employees to verifying only the most basic information about the employee's employment.  Employers who do give references should limit the reference to only objective, factual information about the employee's work performance that is backed up by documentation in the employee's personnel file.  This is due to concerns about possible defamation claims from former employees who believe that their former employers slandered them in a reference.

Employers who provide references should research whether state law provides an immunity from suit for supplying certain information about the former employee.  Where there is such a protection, the state may limit what information is protected.  Employers who give references, should be aware that courts have held that once an employer undertakes to provide a reference, it has a duty to provide a truthful and complete reference.  Employers who give false information or who omit negative information, have, in some cases, been held liable for negligent misrepresentation or negligent referencing.