State Laws on References and Statements By Former Employers

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Many states regulate what an employer may say about a former employee—for example, when giving a reference to a prospective employer. In some states, employers may provide information about a former employee only with the employee’s consent. And, to protect employers from defamation lawsuits, some states give employers who provide this information immunity, which means that the former employee cannot sue the employer for giving out the information as long as the employer acted in good faith.

Some states have laws, sometimes known as service letter laws, that require employers to provide former employees with letters describing certain aspects of their employment—for example, their work histories, pay rates, or reasons for their termination. These laws vary greatly from state to state and are summarized in the chart below.

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CAUTION

You don’t get it both ways. When asking a former employer for a service letter, you are asking for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the whole truth as to why you were fired. But reasons for firing are subjective. And, chances are, you may not like what you read. A number of states specifically protect employers from being sued for defamation because of what they have written in service letters. Most laws require a former employer to provide a statement that is “truthful” or “in good faith” to take advantage of this protection.

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CAUTION

Additional laws may apply. If the chart below indicates that your state has no statute, this means there is no law that specifically addresses the issue. However, there may be a state administrative regulation or local ordinance that does control information from former employers. Call your state labor department for more information.

State Laws on Information From Former Employers

Alaska

Alaska Stat. § 09.65.160

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Employer knowingly or intentionally discloses information that is false or misleading or that violates employee’s civil rights.

Arizona

Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 23-1361

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• reasons for termination or separation

• performance evaluation or opinion

• knowledge, qualifications, skills, or abilities

• education, training, or experience

• professional conduct

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Copy to employee required:

• Copy of disclosures must be sent to employee’s last known address.

Employer immune from liability:

• employer with fewer than 100 employees who provides only the information listed above

• employer with at least 100 employees who has a regular practice of providing information requested by a prospective employer

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information is intentionally misleading.

• Employer provided information knowing it was false or not caring if it was true or false.

Arkansas

Ark. Code Ann. § 11-3-204

Information that may be disclosed:

• reasons for termination or separation

• length of employment, pay level, and history

• performance evaluation or opinion

• job description and duties

• eligibility for rehire

• attendance

• drug and alcohol test results from the past year

• threats of violence, harassing acts, or threatening behavior

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer (employee must provide written consent)

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Employer disclosed information knowing it was false or not caring if it was true or false.

Other provisions:

• Employee consent required before employer can release information.

• Consent must follow required format and must be signed and dated.

• Consent is valid only while employment application is still active, but no longer than six months.

California

Cal. Civ. Code § 47(c); Cal. Lab. Code §§ 1053, 1055

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• reasons for termination or separation

• knowledge, qualifications, skills, or abilities based upon credible evidence

• eligibility for rehire

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

Employer required to write letter:

• public utility companies only

Colorado

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-2-114

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• reasons for termination or separation

• knowledge, qualifications, skills, or abilities

• eligibility for rehire

• work-related habits

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Copy to employee required:

• Upon request, a copy must be sent to employee’s last known address.

• Employee may obtain a copy in person at the employer’s place of business during normal business hours.

• Employer may charge reproduction costs if multiple copies are requested.

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information disclosed was false, and employer knew or reasonably should have known it was false.

Connecticut

Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 31-51

Information that may be disclosed:

• “truthful statement of any facts”

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Delaware

Del. Code Ann. tit. 19, §§ 708 to 709

Information that may be disclosed:

All employers:

• job performance

• performance evaluation or opinion

• work-related characteristics

• violations of law

Health or child care employers:

• reasons for termination or separation

• length of employment, pay level, and history

• job description and duties

• substantiated incidents of abuse, neglect, violence, or threats of violence

• disciplinary actions

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer (health or child care employers must provide signed statement from prospective applicant authorizing former employer to release information)

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information was known to be false, was deliberately misleading, or was disclosed without caring whether it was true.

• Information was confidential or disclosed in violation of a nondisclosure agreement.

Employer required to write letter:

• Letter required for employment in health care and child care facilities.

• Letter must follow required format.

• Employer must have written consent from employee.

• Employer must send letter within 10 days of receiving request.

Florida

Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 768.095, 435.10, 655.51

Information that may be disclosed:

Employers that require background checks:

• reasons for termination or separation

• disciplinary matters

Banks and financial institutions:

• violation of an industry-related law or regulation, which has been reported to appropriate enforcing authority

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information is known to be false or is disclosed without caring whether it is true.

• Disclosure violates employee’s civil rights.

Employer required to write letter:

• only employers that require background checks

Georgia

Ga. Code Ann. § 34-1-4

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• qualifications, skills, or abilities

• violations of state law

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information was disclosed in violation of a nondisclosure agreement.

• Information was confidential according to federal, state, or local law or regulations.

Hawaii

Haw. Rev. Stat. § 663-1.95

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information disclosed was knowingly false or misleading.

Idaho

Idaho Code § 44-201(2)

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• performance evaluation or opinion

• professional conduct

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information is deliberately misleading or known to be false.

Illinois

745 III. Comp. Stat. § 46/10

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

Employer immune from liability:

• Information is truthful.

Employer immune from liability unless:

• information is knowingly false or in violation of a civil right.

Indiana

Ind. Code Ann. §§ 22-5-3-1(b),(c), 22-6-3-1

Information that may be disclosed:

• reasons for termination or separation

• length of employment, pay level, and history

• job description and duties

Who may request or receive information:

• former or current employee (must be in writing)

Copy to employee required:

• Prospective employer must provide copy of any written communications from current or former employers that may affect hiring decision.

• Prospective employee must make request in writing within 30 days of applying for employment.

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information was known to be false.

Employer required to write letter:

• Must have written request from employee.

• Must state nature and length of employment and reason, if any, for separation.

• Employers that don’t require written recommendations do not have to provide them.

Iowa

Iowa Code § 91B.2

Information that may be disclosed:

• “work-related information”

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information violates employee’s civil rights.

• Information is not relevant to the inquiry being made.

• Information is disclosed without checking its truthfulness.

• Information is given to a person who has no legitimate interest in receiving it.

Kansas

Kan. Stat. Ann. §§ 44-808(3), 44-199a

Information that may be disclosed:

Does not have to be in writing:

• length of employment, pay level, and history

• job description and duties

Must be in writing:

• performance evaluation or opinion (written evaluation conducted prior to employee’s separation)

• reasons for termination or separation

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer (written request required for performance evaluation and reasons for termination or separation)

• former or current employee (request must be in writing)

Copy to employee required:

• Employee must have access to reasons for termination or separation and performance evaluations.

• Employee must be given copy of written evaluation upon request.

Employer immune from liability:

• employer who provides information as it is specified in the law

Employer required to write letter:

• Upon written request, must give former employee a service letter stating the length of employment, job classification, and rate of pay.

Kentucky

Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 411.225

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• professional conduct

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information is knowingly false or deliberately misleading.

Louisiana

La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 23:291

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• performance evaluation or opinion

• knowledge, qualifications, skills, or abilities

• job description and duties

• attendance, attitude, and effort

• awards, demotions, and promotions

• disciplinary actions

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information is knowingly false or deliberately misleading.

Maine

Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 26, §§ 598, 630

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• work record

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Employer knowingly discloses false or deliberately misleading information.

• Employer discloses information without caring whether or not it is true.

Employer required to write letter:

• Employer must provide a discharged employee with a written statement of the reasons for termination within 15 days of receiving employee’s written request.

Maryland

Md. Code Ann. [Cts. & Jud. Proc.] § 5-423

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• reasons for termination or separation

• information disclosed in a report or other document required by law or regulation

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

• federal, state, or industry regulatory authority

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Employer intended to harm or defame employee.

• Employer intentionally disclosed false information, or disclosed without caring if it was false.

Massachusetts

Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 111, § 72L 1/2

Information that may be disclosed (applies only to hospitals, convalescent or nursing homes, home health agencies, and hospice programs):

• reasons for termination or separation

• length of employment, pay level, and history

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information disclosed was false, and employer knew it was false.

Michigan

Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 423.452, 423.506 to 423.507

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance information that is documented in personnel file

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Employer knew that information was false or misleading.

• Employer disclosed information without caring if it was true or false.

• Disclosure was specifically prohibited by a state or federal statute.

Other provisions:

• Employer may not disclose any disciplinary action or letter of reprimand that is more than 4 years old to a third party.

• Employer must notify employee by first class mail on or before the day of disclosure (does not apply if employee waived notification in a signed job application with another employer).

Minnesota

Minn. Stat. Ann. § 181.933

Employer immune from liability:

• Employer can’t be sued for libel, slander, or defamation for sending employee written statement of reasons for termination.

Employer required to write letter:

• Employer must provide a written statement of the reasons for termination within 10 working days of receiving employee’s request.

• Employee must make request in writing within 15 working days of being discharged.

Missouri

Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 290.140, 290.152

Information that may be disclosed:

• reasons for termination or separation

• length of employment, pay level, and history

• job description and duties

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer (request must be in writing)

Copy to employee required:

• Employer must send copy to employee’s last known address.

• Employee may request copy of letter up to one year after it was sent to prospective employer.

Employer required to write letter:

• Law applies only to employers with 7 or more employees, and to employees with at least 90 days’ service.

• Letter must state the nature and length of employment and reason, if any, for separation.

• Employee must make request by certified mail within one year after separation.

• Employer must reply within 45 days of receiving request.

Other provisions:

• All information disclosed must be in writing and must be consistent with service letter.

Montana

Mont. Code Ann. §§ 39-2-801, 39-2-802

Information that may be disclosed:

• reasons for termination or separation

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

Employer required to write letter:

• Upon request, employer must give discharged employee a written statement of reasons for discharge.

• If employer doesn’t respond to request within a reasonable time, may not disclose reasons to another person.

Nebraska

Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 48-209 to 48-211

Employer required to write letter:

• Law applies only to public utilities, transportation companies, and contractors doing business with the state.

• Upon request from employee, must provide service letter that states length of employment, nature of work, and reasons employee quit or was discharged.

• Letter must follow prescribed format for paper and signature.

Nevada

Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 613.210(4)

Employer required to write letter:

• Upon request of an employee who leaves or is discharged, employer must provide a written statement listing reasons for separation and any meritorious service employee may have performed.

• Statement not required unless employee has worked for at least 60 days.

• Employee entitled to only one statement.

New Mexico

N.M. Stat. Ann. § 50-12-1

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• no person specified (“when requested to provide a reference ...”)

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information disclosed was known to be false or was deliberately misleading.

• Disclosure was careless or violated former employee’s civil rights.

North Carolina

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-539.12

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• reasons for termination or separation

• knowledge, qualifications, skills, or abilities

• eligibility for rehire

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information disclosed was false, and employer knew or reasonably should have known it was false.

North Dakota

N.D. Cent. Code § 34-02-18

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• length of employment, pay level, and history

• job description and duties

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information was known to be false or was disclosed without caring whether it was true.

• Information was deliberately misleading.

Ohio

Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 4113.71

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Employer disclosed information knowing that it was false or with the deliberate intent to mislead the prospective employer or another person.

• Disclosure constitutes an unlawful discriminatory practice.

Oklahoma

Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 40, §§ 61, 171

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer (must have consent of employee)

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• information was false, and employer knew it was false or didn’t care whether or not it was true

Employer required to write letter:

• Law applies only to public utilities, transportation companies, and contractors doing business with the state.

• Upon request from employee, must provide letter that states length of employment, nature of work, and reasons employee quit or was discharged.

• Letter must follow prescribed format for paper and signature.

Oregon

Or. Rev. Stat. § 30.178

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information was knowingly false or deliberately misleading.

• Information was disclosed without caring whether or not it was true.

• Disclosure violated a civil right of the former employee.

Pennsylvania

42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8340.1

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information was knowingly false or deliberately misleading.

• Information was in violation of current or former employee’s civil rights under the employment discrimination laws in effect at time of disclosure.

Rhode Island

R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-6.4-1(c)

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information was knowingly false or deliberately misleading.

• Information was in violation of current or former employee’s civil rights under the employment discrimination laws in effect at time of disclosure.

South Carolina

S.C. Code Ann. § 41-1-65

Information that may be disclosed:

• length of employment, pay level, and history

• reasons for termination or separation

• job performance

• performance evaluation or opinion (evaluation must be signed by employee before separation)

• knowledge, qualifications, skills, or abilities

• job description and duties

• attendance, attitude, and effort

• awards, demotions, and promotions

• disciplinary actions

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer (written request required for all information except dates of employment and wage history)

• former or current employee

Copy to employee required:

• Employee must be allowed access to any written information sent to prospective employer.

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Employer knowingly or thoughtlessly releases or discloses false information.

Other provisions:

• All disclosures other than length of employment, pay level, and history must be in writing for employer to be entitled to immunity.

South Dakota

S.D. Codified Laws Ann. § 60-4-12

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance (must be in writing)

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer (request must be in writing)

• former or current employee (request must be in writing)

Copy to employee required:

• upon employee’s written request

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Employer knowingly, intentionally, or carelessly disclosed false or deliberately misleading information.

• Information is subject to a nondisclosure agreement or is confidential according to federal or state law.

Tennessee

Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-105

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information is knowingly false or deliberately misleading.

• Employer disclosed information regardless of whether it was false or defamatory.

• Disclosure is in violation of employee’s civil rights according to current employment discrimination laws.

Texas

Tex. Lab. Code Ann. §§ 52.031(d), 103.001 to 103.003;
Tex. Civ. Stat. Ann. Art. 5196

Information that may be disclosed:

• reasons for termination or separation (must be in writing)

• job performance

• attendance, attitudes, and effort

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Copy to employee required:

• Within 10 days of receiving employee’s request, employer must send copy of written disclosure or true statement of verbal disclosure, along with names of people to whom information was given.

• Employer may not disclose reasons for employee’s discharge to any other person without sending employee a copy, unless employee specifically requests disclosure.

Employer immune from liability:

• employer who makes disclosure based on information any employer would reasonably believe to be true

Employer required to write letter:

• Employee must make request in writing.

• Employer must respond within 10 days of receiving employee’s request.

• Discharged employee must be given a written statement of reasons for termination.

• Employee who quits must be given a written statement, including all job titles and dates, that states that separation was voluntary and whether employee’s performance was satisfactory.

• Employee entitled to another copy of statement if original is lost or unavailable.

Utah

Utah Code Ann. § 34-42-1

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• There is clear and convincing evidence that employer disclosed information with the intent to mislead, knowing it was false, or not caring if it was true or false.

Virginia

Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-46.1

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• reasons for separation

• performance evaluation or opinion

• knowledge, qualifications, skills, or abilities

• job description and duties

• attendance, effort, and productivity

• awards, promotions, or demotions

• disciplinary actions

• professional conduct

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Employer disclosed information deliberately intending to mislead, knowing it was false, or not caring if it was true or false.

Washington

Wash. Admin. Code 296-126-050

Employer required to write letter:

• Within 10 working days of receiving written request, employer must give discharged employee a signed statement of reasons for termination.

West Virginia

W.Va. Code § 31A-4-44

Information that may be disclosed:

• violation of an industry-related law or regulation, which has been reported to appropriate enforcing authority (applies only to banks and financial institutions)

Wisconsin

Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 134.02(2)(a), 895.487

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

• reasons for termination or separation

• knowledge, qualifications, skills, or abilities

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

• bondsman or surety agent

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Employer knowingly provided false information in the reference.

• Employer made the reference without caring whether it was true or permitted by law.

• Reference was in violation of employee’s civil rights.

Wyoming

Wyo. Stat. § 27-1-113

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

Employer immune from liability unless:

• Information was knowingly false or deliberately misleading.

• Disclosure was made with no concern for whether it was true or permitted by law.

by: Barbara Repa

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