Thought Leadership Blog

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A "No References" Policy is a "Welcome" Sign for Employee Bad Behavior

When employees know their bad or good acts won’t follow them, motivation and accountability are adversely impacted. An employer who wants the best of employees knows this and reinforces accountability through both seeking and providing employment references.

Today's employment background checking requires enhanced employer responsibilities to Fair Credit Reporting Act compliance. That being said, proper candidate pre-hire screening remains a due diligent essential. Employees who believe that terrible performance will be kept a "secret" are less likely to deploy adequate self-supervision. If we take the approach “What happens in Vegas…” with our employees, there is too little motivation for them to give us their best. We also miss our opportunity to allow our forgiveness and well-placed "second chances" to build loyalty and incentive.

In many states, employers enjoy specific statutory protection in providing employment references, as long as information is factual, non-subjective, and used in no discriminatory or otherwise unlawful manner. Despite this protection, many employers extend employee right to privacy to employment references. Employers need to carefully control information flow and train all managers in legal compliance. Failure to do so can result in legal consequences. That being said, a published “no references” policy is a hurtful substitute for compliance.  

When seeking references, professional third parties can be far more effective, as the employer can trust information will be collected and used within full legal compliance. The structure, content and tone of inquiry are additionally key to validity.

Where an employer elects to forego employment referencing, both incoming and outgoing, we recommend not only reconsideration but also reasonable discretion. Advertising a "no references" policy is a "welcome" sign for bad workplace behavior. At a minimum, we recommend the avoidance of "no references" language in the employee handbook. Instead, we recommend language limiting who at the company is licensed to handle the inquiries. Many language options are available. Requiring electronic fax, forms or email is a great way to streamline and defer cumbersome activity.

Apprehension to “burn bridges” keeps many of us on our toes. We self-police, we filter and we decide accordingly. The workplace deserves this respect.



Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, January 06, 2014