Employment References in a Social Media World
Employers must exercise extra caution
Employers have been particularly cautious in recent years to limit who and when it is permissible to respond to a reference inquiry from a current or former employee. Whether it is to verify the employment status of a current worker applying for a mortgage, or praising a former employee seeking a new job, HR pros have sought to limit the “official” company word on such communications to avoid legal exposure for everything from claims of guaranteed salary levels or secure employment, to negligent misrepresentation complaints from the former employee’s new employer when the former employee not only can’t “walk on water” but turns out to have previously undetected larcenous or violent tendencies.
With the prevalence and casualness of social media, HR pros are sweating to sustain controls more easily held together when dealing with old school communication vehicles like phone calls or written reference letters with an actual original signature. In the wild west world of social media and a worker population and technology that can trigger a viral storm in an instant, it is difficult if not impossible to control the floodgate of “likes” and “endorsements,” regardless of accuracy and relevance.
There has been much discussion of the need and importance of developing a sound social media policy that at least articulates the company position on such matters so as to have a defense of “best efforts” in an otherwise futile exercise. The flood of “liking” everyone and endorsing people in all skills possible regardless of actual knowledge of the endorser or ability of the endorsee, may ultimately dilute the credential so much that the problem will solve itself. But for now, it would be prudent to heed the cautionary note in this article.
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