What Former Employers Should NOT Be Allowed To Do Or Say
Spell Out Reference Details In Your Separation Agreement
By Jeff Shane for Hcareers.com
Job separation: most people cringe at the very prospect, and many of us have experienced it. To be fair, it’s not always a bad thing—sometimes it occurs for a positive reason, such as an employee seeking career advancement elsewhere. Unfortunately, there is also the circumstance where the separation is initiated by the employer, e.g. through a lay-off, firing, or corporate downsizing.
Entering into this, many employer-initiated separations come with a “separation agreement” (sometimes referred to as Termination Agreement, Severance Agreement or Separation Agreement and General Release), which specifies the terms of your termination and severance package. Under the best of circumstances, these packages can be quite generous and can be, when handled correctly, a useful and positive tool for the employee.
However, don’t miss the key phrase here: when handled correctly. Employees should be aware that these separation documents are drawn up by, and favor, the employer; the documents are also a legally binding contract in which the employee relinquishes their legal rights. If you are the departing employee, it is in your best interest to review this contract very carefully.
To protect yourself, have the legal wording and key details spelled out by an attorney, and make sure you understand the ramifications of the agreement. This is of particular importance if you sued your former employer and are now negotiating a separation package.
(Note: In most states, you will not want to use the word “severance” or “severance agreement.” Severance is a term used by both federal and state governments to denote a specific type of payment. It may adversely impact your tax, unemployment, and other benefits. A labor and employment attorney can advise you on this subject.)
One key thing that is often overlooked in the negotiation of these packages is how your (now former) employer will react to a request from a potential employer for reference information. The reference given by your former employer to prospective new employers will almost certainly make-or-break your future job prospects and cannot be left to chance.
So, what should the legal agreement with your former company say about its obligations to provide references to potential employers? Here are some tips on what a former employer should NOT be allowed to do or say when asked for reference information:
1. Make a reference to legal action.
“Hold on a moment, let me get the legal file to see what I am allowed to say.” There should be NO reference whatsoever that the former employee may have sued—new companies do not want to hire someone who sues former employers.
2. Nothing at all.
They MUST return a reference call. After all, what does it say when a former company, boss or the HR department does not return a reference call? It’s a very strong hint to a potential employer that there were issues or problems with the employee.
3. Have a bad attitude, or any other type of inflection when interviewed.
No negative sound bites. (See some of the unbelievable things former employers have said here.)
4. Offer any other opinions whatsoever.
When providing a reference, they need to stick to the facts.
5. Offer any type of personal conversations within the industry.
“Off-the-record” conversations that malign a former employee must be taboo as it can be considered “blackballing.”
Here are some tips on what employers/reference providers SHOULD be saying and doing per a legal agreement.
1. They should, in a polite and friendly way, verify title, dates of employment and salary for prospective employer.
This verifies the information that is required on most employment applications.
2. They should courteously decline to provide any additional information.
When asked other questions, they need to politely say, “Our corporate policy does not allow me to give any additional information.”
Taking the time to clarify these reference requirements in your separation package will likely make a critical difference in your ability to get future employment. Also, don’t assume that the company reference policy will be followed; in many cases, it is not. A legal agreement on reference conduct can mean the difference between a lukewarm or negative reference, and one that is positive and professional. Make sure you conduct the necessary “due diligence” with a reputable employment attorney – the career you preserve, may be your own.
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About Allison & Taylor:
Allison & Taylor, Inc. and its principals have been in the business of checking references for corporations and individuals since 1984. Allison & Taylor, Inc. is headquartered in Rochester, Mich. For further details on services and procedures please visit http://www.allisontaylor.com/.
Since 1984, the company has been featured on CBSNews.com, NETSHARE.com, the Wall Street Journal, NationJob.com, Glamour Magazine, New Woman Magazine, Worth Magazine, the Detroit News, the St. Petersburg Times, and has been rated a "Top Executive Site" in Forbes magazine.
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