Advice for Providing Employee References

In 1997, the Iowa Legislature passed Iowa Code §91B.2, which protects an employer when providing truthful work-related reference information. Following is advice for how to go about giving appropriate references under that law.

Focus on Factual Work-Related Information

An employer or representative may provide work-related information about a current or former employee if:

  •  it is requested or authorized by the current or former employee; or
  •  it is requested by a person who you believe, in good faith, to be a prospective employer or representative of a prospective employer.

The term “work-related information” includes such items as attendance (not including protected leave), awards, demotions, duties, accomplishments, effort, evaluations, knowledge, skills, abilities, rates of pay, promotions, disciplinary actions, and reasons for separation. Performance evaluation forms are a good source for this work-related information.

It’s strongly recommended that you only provide factual information that is work-related. While you may have opinions or personal information about the current or former employee these are not work-related and should not be disclosed. Don’t be tricked into speculating about an employee’s propensity for misconduct based on your knowledge of non-work-related activities. Also, negative references given with malice or evil intent are not protected by Iowa law.

Format for Providing Information

Requests for references are often made over the phone, and that’s acceptable, but provides no record. E-mail is a handy format that provides both speed and documentation, but if you elect to use it, remember such communications may be subject to disclosure under the public records law.  Some employers have also begun using online or electronic survey tools to collect reference information.  These types of media/technology are also acceptable.  You may or may not have a record or your response using this technology.

There’s no requirement that you have a written request from an employee in order to provide references, but a release is often part of the application form. Requesting a copy of the form from the prospective employer also would provide a record.

Not Recommended

There is no protection if you provide information that:

  • violates a civil right of the employee,
  • is knowingly provided to a person who has no legitimate common interest in receiving it,
  • is not relevant to the inquiry,
  • is provided with no good faith belief in its truth, or
  • is provided with malice or evil intent.

Civil rights violations can occur when any aspect of the transfer of information tends to discriminate against a person based on race, religion, color, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, pregnancy, disability, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity. Civil rights violations can also arise when certain information is disclosed, such as personal medical records, human rights complaints filed by the employee, and reports filed under a whistle-blower’s statute. Callers with “no legitimate and common interest” in this context include private investigators, the media, or lawyers outside the University, even when the information is work-related. Only prospective employers have a legitimate and common interest in the information.

If you have questions about providing a reference you may contact your Senior HR Leader or the Office of General Counsel.