The employment reference, or recommendation, has traditionally been considered an important part of the college recruiting process. Career services directors encourage, and in many cases require, that graduating students include reference letters in their credential/employment files as further 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.
Until the early 1980s, employment references served their purpose relatively well. They tended to be candid and were sometimes painfully honest. However, in recent years, faculty, administrators, and employers have grown reluctant to provide frank information about their former students and employees, either verbally or in writing.
This reluctance stems from an increase in the number of lawsuits charging reference givers with slander and libel—even where accurate information was released to prospective employers. To combat the issue, 35 states passed "reference immunity laws" which protect prior employers when they provide "good faith" references to prospective employers. Unfortunately, these laws do not necessarily cover references from faculty or administrators unless they can be considered "prior" employers to the students for whom the references are given. These reference providers must rely on the defenses available to them under the common law.
At the same time, another trend has emerged. There has been a noticeable rise in the number of lawsuits against employers and referral agencies for hiring and referring candidates who were unfit for their jobs and who also harmed innocent third parties. Often, the basis of these negligent hiring and referral lawsuits is that the employer or agency failed to conduct a complete reference check on the candidate or misrepresented the qualifications and characteristics of the candidate. To complicate the issue further, this "negligence" results, in part, from fear of being sued by the job candidate or former employee on the grounds of invasion of privacy.
These two trends have created a new dilemma in employment law. Simply stated, how can employers conduct a thorough reference check when reference givers are increasingly apprehensive about providing candid reference information? This brief, Writing Reference Letters, outlines the law regarding references, gives tips on preparing references, and provides samples of reference letters and the types of information that may properly be released during a reference check.
In the final analysis, providing a reference requires a careful balancing act between giving and gathering useful reference information and protecting oneself from litigation.
Release of Reference File Information
Please note:You have not established a placement file until this form is completed and returned to the Career Center.
I hereby grant permission to the Anywhere College Career Center to release information contained in my placement file to employers, educational institutions, and foundations for the purpose of assisting me in obtaining employment, admission to graduate school, fellowships, and/or scholarships.
Current Address ________________________________________
Current Telephone ( ____) ________________________________
Permanent Address ______________________________________
Permanent Telephone ( ____) ______________________________
Class of _____________ Major ____________________________
ANYWHERE COLLEGE Any Street Anytown, PA Telephone: 800/555-1212
Career CenterReference Record
Return this form after all reference forms have been distributed.
I authorize the Career Center of Anywhere College to collect and maintain a file of credentials for the purpose of assisting me in my search for employment. I further authorize the Career Center to send my credentials to prospective employers under the following guidelines:
— Only as requested by me. — As requested by me at the request of a prospective employer.— As requested by me, or a prospective employer, or the Career Center.— In addition, to the person(s) identified above, I authorize the following individual to request the mailing of my credentials to a potential employer:
Student’s Signature _____________________________________
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 opens many student records for the student’s inspection. The law also permits the student to sign a waiver relinquishing the right to inspect letters of recommendation. The applicant’s signature below constitutes a waiver; no signature means that the student has the right to read his/her reference.
Student’s Signature ______________________________________
Student’s I.D. #_________________________________________
Date of Graduation ______________________________________
RATING AND STATEMENT CONCERNING:
Student’s Name _________________________________________
NOTE:E=Excellent; G=Good; A=Average; F=Fair; P=Poor; N=No basis for evaluation. Ratings should reflect such factors as the candidate’s achievements and intelligence.
* These categories are examples only. Categories would change depending upon the position for which the reference is requested. This particular example would be appropriate for a reference regarding teaching ability.
COMMENTS OF INDIVIDUAL MAKING RECOMMENDATION
(Information should be factual, based upon personal knowledge/observation. If additional space is required, please use a separate sheet or the back of this sheet.)
Date ______________________ Phone ( __) ________________
Please Return to: Anywhere College Career Center
Recommendation for ______________________________________
(Comments should be typewritten and related to the specific position desired. Information should be factual, based upon personal knowledge/observation of the applicant. If additional space is needed for your recommendation, please use the reverse side of this sheet or attach a separate sheet.)
Sample Faculty Reference Letter
Sample Employer Reference Letter
(Updated November 2008)
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