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What Did I Say?

Be a responsible reference.
December 1, 2005

Your problem employee has finally left. But shortly after his departure, you receive a call for a reference. Can you give an honest assessment?

It's dicey. Negative information you give could be fodder for a defamation suit. But all employers have an obligation to check the backgrounds of potential hires.

The good news: Most states provide a degree of protection to employers who provide references-it's called "qualified immunity." A former employer isn't liable, even for making mistaken statements, so long as the employer was not malicious. But this does not protect an employer from claims of discrimination or illegal retaliation.

Because of these risks, many attorneys advise business owners not to give references beyond confirming job titles and dates of employment. If you decide to give fuller references, follow these guidelines:

Jane Easter Bahls is a writer in Rock Island, Illinois, specializing in business and legal topics.