It’s safe to release most information about an employee to third parties, though certain restrictions apply. Below is a summary of the information an employer can release for employment verification, including the most appropriate responses to common requests.
The most important thing to prove when verifying employment is that an employee held the position cited. At a bare minimum, employment verification requests typically ask for the following, all of which can be released without concern:
Where appropriate, and if requested, employers may give details about an employee’s job responsibilities and past performance, including reviews and evaluations.
Employers are sometimes asked to share feedback about an employee’s performance, especially if that employee has left and is hoping to work for another company. For hiring situations, past performance can be a key indicator of a recruit’s ability to handle a new role.
Reporting on past performance can be tricky if an employer’s relationship with an employee became strained. If an employee was terminated for cause, for example, employers can indeed share that information. If there’s a dispute with an employee about the reason for their termination, explain to a third party how you're positioning the employee's release. That way, the former employee can avoid potentially awkward or unnecessary conversations with that same third party in the future.
Government offices reviewing applications for state or federal aid programs, such as welfare or unemployment benefits, will contact employers to gain further context on an applicant’s departure or termination. Be mindful that contesting an unemployment claim can initiate a long appeals process, which could affect an employee’s ability to afford basic living expenses.
There are a number of situations that call for releasing information about an employee’s salary or other income, including the following: When asked to release salary information, employers should consider the context and confirm with the relevant employee that salary details are required to adequately address all areas of a verification request. If confusion arises about the legality of your disclosure, be sure to check local laws to understand whether the salary information in question is protected or can be released. As an example, this page from New York City’s Commission on Human Rights (https://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/media/salary-history.page)explains the restrictions on using salary information during the hiring process.
In the United States, information about an employee’s disabilities is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (https://adata.org/factsheet/ADA-overview) (ADA). New employers are prohibited from asking specific questions about a potential hire’s disabilities, though they can verify that an employee will be able to perform the key duties of a given role. For example, if a role requires an employee to move heavy boxes, a new employer can verify that the recruit in question is capable of, for example, lifting up to 50 pounds above their shoulders.
If a third party requests information about an employee’s health, employers should generally abstain from sharing it. Employees alone should decide about when and how to share their health information. Companies can help protect their staff by explaining their rights.
When making hiring decisions, companies frequently seek references from a recruit’s past managers and colleagues. In a 2018 survey, the (https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/conductingbackgroundinvestigations.aspx)National Association of Background Screeners (NABS)found that 95 percent (https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/conductingbackgroundinvestigations.aspx) of employers use some form of background screening, such as reference checks.
References, whether a former manager or another colleague, can serve as another form of proof of employment and verification of an employee’s performance. The burden for securing a reference usually rests on the employee, and references aren’t obligated to fulfill such requests. If a reference isn’t comfortable discussing their relationship with an employee, the reference-seeker will need to approach another point of contact.
Occasionally, a legal investigation, whether civil or criminal, will result in a subpoena for information about a past employee. As most court proceedings are public record, you’re allowed to ask the employee to give context about the investigation, if necessary.
Be mindful that legal investigations are extremely stressful for all involved, so it’s best to approach these kinds of requests carefully. When receiving a request for information about a past or current employee for a legal investigation, employers should verify the validity of a subpoena with their legal department or an attorney to help make sure that they’re not releasing unnecessary information.
The reasons for employment verification vary, so employers should make sure they understand the context of the request in order to provide adequate information. If there’s any confusion about what information an employer can release for employment verification, employers should check with their HR or compliance department to protect both themselves and members of their team.