Providing and Obtaining Employment Reference Information
Date of Current Revision: September 2015
Primary Responsible Officer: Director of Human Resources
The purpose of this policy is to outline the procedures for obtaining as well as providing employment-related reference information at James Madison University, and to establish the university’s commitment to open, truthful, job-related reference information sharing.
The Board of Visitors has been authorized by the Commonwealth of Virginia to govern James Madison University. See Code of Virginia section 23-164.6; 23-9.2:3. The board has delegated the authority to manage the university to the president.
Any person or group of persons (such as a search committee) involved in the hiring of any JMU employee.
The process by which individuals are contacted who are knowledgeable about an applicant’s work history in order to verify the facts on his/her resume and/or application and any job-related information, including that provided during the interviewing process.
This policy applies to all persons at JMU as they provide reference information, including information on former and current faculty and staff. It also applies to all those employees, including hiring managers and members of search committees, who are gathering reference information on potential job candidates, including those candidates who are currently JMU faculty or staff.
The process of gathering complete, job-related reference information is a required part of the recruiting and hiring process at JMU because it supports the university’s commitment to maintaining an effective workforce. In addition, the university will recruit and hire employees in accordance with federal and state law and university policies. To comply with these policies, to ensure that employment practices are effective, and to provide equal employment opportunity, the following procedures must be observed when involved in obtaining or providing reference information.
6.1 Obtaining Reference Information
At least three job-related references must be completed before any employment offer is made for new employees. All rehired employees with a break in service of more than one year are required to have one reference completed prior to being rehired. This reference may be provided by a former JMU supervisor who is familiar with the employee’s work performance. Re-hired employees with a break in service of less than one year will also be required to have one reference completed if no references are on file.
References may be obtained in any one of a variety of formats, including face-to-face, telephone, email, etc. Personal references may be contacted if the applicant has limited work experience. However, it is important to note that personal references are often not helpful in determining a candidate’s ability to perform job-related tasks or functions.
Reference checks should attempt to obtain information including, but not limited to:
- Employment dates
- Position title
- Position duties
- Beginning and ending salaries
- Training completed
- Job performance, including performance strengths and weaknesses
- Attendance including reporting to work at the scheduled time
- Whether the employer would rehire the applicant
- Verification of any required license, degree or certification
- Reason(s) for the candidate leaving his/her current employment
The staff application and faculty profile found in JMU JobLink contain a release statement by which applicants consent to verification of the information provided in the application or profile.
The staff application also contains a release statement by which applicants grant the university permission to contact their current and former employers. If permission is not given, the current and former employers may not be contacted. However, when the hiring manager is conducting final references, he/she may inform the candidate that the inability to contact the current supervisor could affect the selection decision or result in a contingent offer of employment.
Please note that the above provisions do not limit the hiring manager to only contacting the references listed on the application itself.
When conducting reference checks, questions should be phrased in a manner that will solicit objective and job-related information only. Any information supplied that is not directly job-related shall be disregarded and not considered in making a selection decision. The objective of the reference check is to gather information that is open, truthful (or documented) and job-related. A sample reference check form can be found on the Human Resources website.
6.2 Providing Reference Information
Although there may be risks involved in disclosing full employment reference information, there are also risks in withholding truthful and/or documented job-related information including, but not limited to, performance, attendance and re-hire eligibility. Moreover, the information obtained by prospective employers of former university employees is as crucial to their effective hiring as it is for the university. The university believes that providing reference information represents good faith in being part of a community. For these reasons, managers at JMU may answer all job-related questions when contacted by other businesses and agencies.
When a JMU employee is contacted for reference information but does not believe he or she has sufficient information regarding the former employee in question, he or she may refer the caller to Human Resources.
During the conversation with the potential employer, only job-related questions may be answered. For instance, one cannot tell a prospective employer what a former employee’s ‘attitude’ was, but observable job-related information may be provided. Examples of job-related information that may be shared include, but are not limited to information (positive or negative) regarding attendance, awards/recognitions, achievements, errors, team/interpersonal behaviors, etc.
6.3 Access to References
Information obtained during the reference check process is confidential. According to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (Code of Virginia, 2.2-3800), agencies are not required to share this information with the applicant. For questions concerning FOIA, contact the Office of Legal Services, and refer to JMU Policy 1103-Responding to External Requests for Information.
All materials will be maintained for the appropriate amount of time. Refer to JMU Policy 1109-Records Management.
Hiring managers have the responsibility to protect the university by obtaining professional references before making a final hiring decision. When providing a reference for a former employee to another organization the hiring manager is responsible for ensuring that they only disclose job related information to the hiring organization.
Additionally, positive relationships with other agencies and organizations are crucial to the selection process. Mutual cooperation among employers is critical so that the university may also obtain the information needed to make effective selection decisions.
Sanctions will be commensurate with the severity and/or frequency of the offense and may include termination of employment.
In addition, certain legal penalties will apply for violation of law, such as the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
While the authority to interpret this policy is granted to the President, it is generally delegated to the Director of Human Resources.
Previous Version: April 2015
Approved by the President: February 2004