Q. Concerning writing reference letters, we have a few supervisors who think it's OK to write them 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. Help! —P.T., South Dakota
A. Many employers adopt a neutral reference policy and provide no more than “name, rank and serial number” when asked for a reference on a former employee. The thinking is that it effectively eliminates exposure to liability for defamation claims. Indeed, while many states give employers limited immunity from defamation claims if they provide references, such immunity is almost never absolute.
Regardless of whether your company adopts a neutral reference policy, you should make sure that the HR department, not individual supervisors, handles all reference requests. Centralizing this function ensures consistency and minimizes the likelihood of problems. Supervisors should be disciplined if they fail to hand over any reference request to HR.