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Feb 10, 2014

Most of us have simply given up on trying to get meaningful references on job applicants.

From frustrating experiences calling applicants’ former employers and our own company policies, we assume that most firms will only confirm dates of employment and starting and ending salaries at best.

This information clamp down is the understandable, but misguided, response to the number of lawsuits that have been filed – and won – by former employees who went to court to dispute what they believed were unfair, unfavorable references.

Use a reference release form

Whatever you do, though, don’t give up on getting reference information. If you don’t get any cooperation and hire the person, document your conversations and keep the records in the employee’s file to prove due diligence.

Please consider your own policy on references, too. As employers, we owe it to our employees and our clientele to hire decent, ethical, safety-conscious employees. One of the only ways to do this is to share information with one another about former employees.

Here’s my idea for putting an end to this fear-based, “loose lips sink ships” mentality…

Ask your employees and every new hire to sign a release that allows you to give references should they leave.

Not signing a form sends a message, too

A Reference Release form is a “hold harmless” document that gives you permission to release job performance information in specific areas designated by the employee. The good to great people will be glad to sign and you will be able to give useful information to future employers.

When you’re called for a reference on someone who would not sign, it will still send a clear message when you say the person was unwilling to sign your reference release and you cannot give any specific information.

If every employer would adopt this simple procedure, reference-related lawsuits would soon be the exception rather than the rule.

This was originally published on Mel Kleiman’s Humetrics blog.