Steps to Resolution
1. What facts are known?
- The company has a "verification only" reference policy.
- You have a good professional relationship with the vice president for human resources of the company that wants the reference.
- The vice president for human resources needs more information to make her decision than your policy allows.
- Employers want references on potential hires, but do not want to give references.
- Employers are concerned about litigation from employees for which negative references have been released.
- Many employers have resorted to only verifying employment dates when references are requested.
2. Identify the NACE Principles in question.
There is no principle that directly relates to these issues. The closest is Principles for Employment Professionals #2—"Employment Professionals will know the recruitment and career development field as well as the industry and the employing organization that they represent, and work within a framework of professionally accepted recruiting, interviewing, and selection techniques."
3. Discuss practical alternatives that are consistent with NACE Principles. Questions to consider:
- Should employers be giving references for employees or former employees?
- Are "verification only" policies too restrictive?
- Are employers hurting qualified candidates by not providing references beyond verification information?
- Why are employers not giving references—is it a result of internal legal counsel or state laws?
- Is litigation a potential threat for organizations who share documented information?
- Do the changes in the employment environment, (i.e. employees changing jobs more frequently, companies not keeping employees long term, employees being released or downsized through no fault of their performance, or employers being held accountable for not checking references for problem hires) merit changing verification only policies?
- Can alternative policies be established that are not as restrictive but protect the employee from sharing of confidential information?
Ethically, you need to follow the reference policy of your organization, even though your colleague assures you that your response will be "totally off the record." You might want to suggest an alternative of having Barbara get copies of her evaluations to share with the potential employer.
For the future, you might want to re-evaluate the company's "verification only" policy to provide employees who have left the company a chance to have their employment record shared with potential employers. With multiple changes in state laws, it would be beneficial to see if your state provides protection against litigation concerns.