The Mailbag.

Position::Letter to the editor

Why should we keep our policy of not providing references for former employees?

Q We have a few supervisors who think it's OK to write reference letters only for "good" employees. But our policy says supervisors can't issue reference letters for any current or former employee. I'm having a hard time finding a reason that justifies our policy. Any suggestions?

A Many employers have "neutral" reference policies, meaning that they will confirm only neutral information, such as job title and dates of employment, and will not provide any editorial information in response to reference requests. Their concern is that a former employee could bring a defamation or other claim against them if he or she doesn't get a job because of a negative reference.

On the flip side, an employer that doesn't disclose information about an employee who is violent, for example, could face a claim for providing a negligent reference if the employee harms someone when working for a new employer.

Pennsylvania law provides immunity from civil liability for employers that provide truthful information about an employee's job performance, unless the employee can prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that the employer acted in bad faith.

Nonetheless, the safest course is to have a central point of contact for reference requests (usually HR) that will provide only neutral information.

Can we limit cash awards to just some employees?

Q When we win contracts, we recognize employees with cash awards. But these awards may be given only to the select few employees who were involved. Is this legally OK?

A Yes, but make sure you have a detailed policy that explains the criteria for earning an award--what it means to be "involved" in the contract. That way, employees know up front whether they will be eligible. Also, you should apply the policy...

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