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Reference Check Guidelines

The following are guidelines related to employment references.

Michigan Law Regarding Reference Checks

Michigan law provides immunity from liability to supervisors who disclose documented performance information to prospective employers. There is no immunity from liability under the statue where a supervisor discloses information in bad faith. “Bad faith” is defined as disclosing information the individual knows is false or misleading; disclosing information with a reckless disregard for the truth; or disclosing information where the disclosure is prohibited by state or federal statute.

Reference Checks for Faculty, Academic and Support Staff

Supervisors may provide references for faculty, academic and support staff when they feel it is appropriate to do so. Individuals providing references should, however, provide information that can be substantiated by documentation. A general rule is that you may provide information or an opinion in a reference check as long as you can verify and substantiate the information with facts or documents.

References for Grad Assistants and Student Employees

A signed release from the graduate assistant or student is required before you can provide a reference. (View sample release here.) Federal law states that when a student is employed in a job that only a student may hold, information about that student’s employment is subject to the same confidentiality protections as other academic information contained in the student’s record. Therefore, university employees may only provide information about graduate assistant and student employees to those individuals who have a signed release from the student. If you have a signed release, you may provide the same type of information you would provide for faculty, academic and support staff as long as you do not provide any academic information.

Internal Unit-to-Unit References

If another MSU department contacts you for a reference, you may discuss performance and recommendations for improvement in a fairly open fashion although the exceptions below are applicable. Supervisors are encouraged to review the personnel file of all prospective internal candidates prior to making a job offer. To do so, please contact the HR Solutions Center at 517-353-4434 for an appointment time.

When You Cannot Provide Any Reference Information

Occasionally, the university enters into a “special agreement” with an employee related to their separation of employment. If a special agreement exists, the agreement must be reviewed to determine whether it contains any limitation on employment references. Supervisors who are in doubt as to whether a special agreement exists should contact the Office of Employee Relations at 517-353-5510.

It is never appropriate to reveal medical information in response to a reference request. Medical information of any kind (including reasonable accommodations or medical leaves of absence) must never be shared, even between unit-to-unit referrals.

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