The employment reference, or recommendation, has traditionally been considered an important part of the university/college recruiting process. Career services directors encourage, and in many cases require, that graduating students include reference letters as documentation of their credentials, motivation, and overall employment skills. Employers, on the other hand, often review reference letters and conduct reference checks to verify a graduate's background and qualifications. Also, employers may be asked write a reference letter for a co-op student or intern.
If you are asked to provide a reference, consider these questions:
The reference letter should be communicated in good faith to other individuals with a need to know. It should be factual and respond to the specific inquiry about the student or job applicant. It should relate to the specific position for which the person applied and the work that the applicant will perform. And, you should be able to document all information released.
For a reference to be defamatory, it must be shown that substantial evidence exists that the reference provider knowingly lied or had no idea whether a statement was true, which is considered reckless disregard for the truth. Reckless disregard for the truth includes a failure to verify circumstances where verification is practical.
Any reference you provide should not disclose information regarding an individual's protected status. Moreover, providing references for only certain individuals based upon race, age, sex, national origin, disability, religion, or another protected class will expose you to potential liability. Individuals who provide references that seem to be generally positive for members of certain groups and generally negative for members of other groups on a consistent basis could be liable for discrimination.
Prospective employers requesting information should not ask for information that they could not request from the job applicant. However, the prospective employer may ask questions regarding dependability, absentee record, and use of drugs/alcohol on the job. If the position involves the safety and security of others, questions pertaining to violent behaviors can be asked.
Faculty or other school personnel who are asked to provide references have an additional duty under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). They must obtain the signed, written consent of the student to disclose information from a student's education record. Thus, if the reference wants to disclose the student's GPA or grades, the student must provide a signed, written consent prior to the disclosure.
Posted October 10, 2016
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