Why Name, Rank, and Serial Number Reference Policies are a Double-Edged Sword

Organization leaders and Human Resources professionals are often challenged by walking the tightrope of when to share information about former employees and when to stick to facts providing only dates of employment, title, and wage. As a result many organizations have policies that closely define those who are approved to release employment information and what information they are allowed to release regarding a former employee.

In the wake of litigation claims for discrimination, defamation, or invasion of privacy these strict policies may limit an organization’s ability to learn the facts about a candidate’s prior employment history and may adversely impact a good candidate’s success in landing a desired position. Despite the fact that these policies are designed to protect the organization from litigation, following them can hold legal risk as well.

Example: You learn that a former employee released due to a workplace violence incident has applied for a position elsewhere and the potential employer is calling to learn more about that candidate. Following the stringent policy of name, rank, and serial number may lead the potential employer to believe that the candidate is a good choice. If this candidate is hired and goes on to harm another employee, your organization may be subjected to legal misrepresentation claims. It’s important that your policies regarding references are written properly and allow for the release of information that may protect others from potential harm.

In my next post, I will discuss how to obtain and provide fair reference information in a way that does not put your organization at risk.


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