Employment references

June 12th, 2018

Finding new employees can be stressful. Sure, an applicant will say they are a hardworking overachiever, but are they being honest? That's where reference checks come in. For most positions, it is beneficial for an employer to request and contact previous employers to check on perspective employees as it can protect the employer in any future negligent hiring claims. But what is the right way to get a reference? And what is the right way to give a reference for your own past employees?

Before conducting the check

While there is no law requiring so, an employer should protect themselves by having the applicant sign a broad release before conducting any reference checks. Additionally, employers may be more willing to share information if such a waiver is in place.

Make sure to have a completed application on hand so you can confirm dates of employment and title to make sure the applicant didn't misrepresent themselves.

During the check

While employers may be tempted to gossip or poke for more personal information it is best to stick to the facts. When contacting references, prospective employers should request basic information such as:

  • dates of employment
  • job duties
  • performance assessments
  • wage history
  • discipline record
  • tendency for violence
  • circumstances surrounding discharge
  • eligibility for rehire.

The questions asked on the reference check should be specifically job-related and designed to obtain objective information regarding the applicant’s prior job performance.

While employers may not want to share some of this information, employers should make inquiries and take notes in case a negligent hiring claim is brought against them in the future.  If the former employer will only provide you with name, former position, and dates of employment, ask if they would rehire the applicant, after all that is the best reference an employer can give.

When giving references

Employers may choose to adopt a policy of providing only “name, rank, and serial number” information about former employees.  Under such a policy, employers should decline to volunteer any subjective or undocumented information and provide only the dates of employment and the positions held by the employee to avoid claims of defamation, slander, breach of privacy, or retaliation. Truth is the best defense to any of these claims, so only provide factual, supportable  information.

Some employers find it helpful to give references in writing to avoid disclosing too much information. In this case employers should use the same form for each reference given, and stick to the information requested. Such forms can be emailed and then retained in the employee's file. An example is provided below.

Also, employers should make notes of the reference, who it was given to, when, and what was discussed. This information can be helpful in a future lawsuit, and can be kept in the employee's file.

Employment reference


Name of applicant:______________________________________________________________________


Stated dates of employment:____________________________________________________________


    1.        Employed from:____________________________    to  _____________________________


    2.        Reason for termination:__________________________________________________________


    3.        First job title:_______________________________________  Pay rate_______________


    4.        Last job title:_______________________________________  Pay rate_______________


    5.        Description of duties in last position:________________________________________________


    6.        Eligible for rehire:   o Yes    o No 


                If no, why not?__________________________________________________________________
























Quality of Work





Quantity of Work



















Date:______________________       Signature:________________________________________