An article appeared recently in The Hartford Courant (September 18, 2007) that probably went relatively unnoticed and yet covered a very important, if not profound, shift in thinking. It had to do with performance reviews and what employers can say about people. As you know, for a long time, employers have been cautioned to say very little about former employees, especially regarding the quality of their performance, for fear of negative legal action. However, the state Supreme Court ruled that employers cannot be sued for defamation of character “if they offer critical but honest appraisals of their present or past employees to those seeking to hire them”. This opens the door a little wider for employers who once shied away from offering any such feedback to other prospective employers.
One reason for this judgment rested on the fact that to protect themselves, most employers also didn’t comment on the “virtues” of an outstanding worker either. Therefore, those current or former employees lost the benefit of that appraisal.
Of course, it still remains to be seen whether or not the reference being given is “honest” so I assume there will still be great caution used when describing the performance of employees past or present. And, that there will still be plenty of people who will bring suit against an employer for their “honest” reference. However, I do think this is a major move in a direction (that is, toward employer rights) that is unprecedented. This will be a good issue to watch especially for those of you in human resources.