Employee references: Between the legal devil and the ethical deep blue sea

Journal of Business Ethics 23 (1):29 - 39 (2000)
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An employer asked to provide a reference for a former or departing employee is confronted with a number of complex legal and ethical concerns. The issue of references is always controversial, involving a balance of employers' fears of legal liability, interests in providing relevant information to prospective employers, and concerns for fairness to former employees. Recently this topic has been the focus of new attention as the result of a court decision holding a former employer legally liable for wrongs committed by a former employee in a new job. In that case, the former employer had provided a positive reference while neglecting to note certain negative aspects of the former employee'sperformance. This paper addresses legal and ethical aspects of the reference dilemma and incorporates responses of human resource professionals to the question of ethical reference policies and practices.



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