Verification of Past Employment Inquiries
You are free to give a glowing reference for a former employee if a prospective employer calls. Of course, this should only be done if the employee is worthy of a recommendation, and most people are. Even moderately adequate employees have fine traits or you wouldn't have continued their employment. However, be honest. It would be unfair to tell another company that an employee never missed a day of work when in reality she rarely showed up and was terminated for poor attendance. You will look bad in the eyes of the person calling if you say things that are not true.
On the other end of the spectrum, employers are afraid to give honest feedback when an employee is not an ideal candidate. Many businesses have a policy of answering only a minimum amount of questions, such as when the employee was hired, when she left, and what position she held. Therefore, you will usually be asked only these three questions. Additionally, employers are afraid of being sued for defamation of character by revealing unfavorable information that may cause someone to be passed over for a job. The unfortunate thing about this is that what may prevent someone from being hired is their demonstrated behavior. That is the cause of losing out on a job opportunity, not the fact that someone spoke the truth.
There are Job Reference Immunity Statutes (JRIS) that have been passed in forty states as of 2006, and that number is expected to rise. These statutes allow employers to reveal unfavorable information about employees provided that the information is true and documented. Additionally, in some states you don't want to get caught hiding potentially dangerous information about a former employee. Your company can be sued if, for instance, you terminate an employee for bringing a gun to work and she shoots somebody at her next place of employment. To protect itself from a negligence-hiring lawsuit, that company may trace the gun incident back to your company and you could be held liable for not warning the other company, thus putting their employees at risk.
Find out if your state provides employers with a JRIS. Whether or not they do, it is important to know what you can reveal during a reference check. It varies greatly by state. There may be some provisions that allow you to answer certain questions only with permission in writing from the former employee. Others may allow employers to answer questions about performance issues only. Yet others protect employers from defamation of character lawsuits when revealing criminal behavior that occurred in the workplace.