When an employee-employer relationship is terminated, either amicably or not, employers may be asked to provide a reference for the former employee.  Providing both positive and negative references for former employees may result in legal liability for employers.  Negative references may result in a slander or defamation action by the former employee.  False positive references or partial references may result in an action by the new employer against the former employer.

The fear of litigation has resulted in many employers enacting a blanket policy prohibiting supervisors/managers from providing any references for any employees.  Those employers will only verify the person’s position, salary, and job duties but will not provide an assessment of that person.

Business owners will have to decide what works best for their business.  If you choose to provide references or answer inquiries, remember the Iowa Code has enacted parameters as well as protection from liability for employers:

·        Before providing a reference a request must be made by the former employee or the prospective employer;

·        If the former employee was discharged, a statement indicating the reasons for the discharge must be in writing;

·        Information provided does not violate a former employee’s civil rights;

·        Employer provides information to a person with a legitimate request;

·        Employer provides information that is relevant to the inquiry;

·        Employer does not provide information with malice; and

·        Employer has a good faith belief that the information is true.

To ensure that your business follows the parameters enacted by the Iowa Code and is protected from liability get everything in writing (the request and your response); answer only the questions asked; and always be honest. When in doubt either don’t provide the reference or contact your attorney.