Background, Guidelines, and Process for Providing Work References
Washington State Law provides protection for an employer who responds to a prospective employer's request for reference information about a current or former employee. The law states that the employer providing the reference is presumed to be acting in good faith and is immune from civil and criminal liability so long as the disclosed information relates to:
- An employee's ability to perform his or her job;
- The diligence, skill, or reliability with which an employee performs or performed his or her job; or,
- Any illegal or wrongful act an employee committed in relation to his or her job duties.
NOTE: Questions/queries of an employment verification (pay, title, dates of employment, etc.) must be forwarded to the Payroll Office first. Payroll will ensure that proper authorization is received before providing the requested information. The reference information will be returned once the employment verification is completed.
The presumption of good faith can only be rebutted if a current or former employee can show by clear and convincing evidence that information the employer disclosed was knowingly false, deliberately misleading, or made with reckless disregard for the truth. An employing official may decline to respond to a work reference request for a current or former employee. However if reference information is provided, the law states that a supervisor or manager who provides it should retain a written record in the employee's personnel file of the identity of the person or entity to which reference information is disclosed for a minimum of two years from the date of disclosure. An employee or former employee has a right to inspect the written record upon request.
- Only an individual who has direct knowledge of an employee's work should provide a work reference. Generally, only a supervisor or manager should speak on behalf of the University as an employer. For example, the questions, "Would you rehire this person?", can only be accurately answered by the person who would have rehire authority or the authority to recommend rehire.
- Have the requesting employer send you the employee's release to provide the information. Or, if the employer does not have one, have the employee complete the release form (DOC).
- Restrict comments to those aspects of the employee's job performance about which you have specific, direct knowledge. Do not guess or rely on hearsay to respond to reference questions.
- Generally, negative information about an employee's job performance should not be provided to a prospective employer unless the employee was made aware of the performance problem or behavioral concern.
- Supervisors/managers must not disclose medical information even if an employee voluntarily disclosed it to the supervisor
- Supervisors/managers should not provide information about an employee that is not directly work related.
- After responding to a reference inquiry, prepare an entry into the Employee Work Reference Inquiry Documentation Form and ensure that the form (and a copy of the employee's release form) is retained in the employee's departmental personnel file.
Your unit's Human Resource Partner is available to discuss questions regarding the kind of information that should be provided during employment reference checks.
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