What Can HR Divulge?

Hi, what information can HR give out when they get a call from the future employer (in California)? Can they give out the current salary and the information why somebody was fired?

Having never lived in California (and truthfully, hoping to never live in California), I have little knowledge of California laws. So, these are general principles, which will, hopefully, be helpful.

To my knowledge, there is no law that dictates what a company can and cannot say about a former employee. Theoretically, they could give details about your termination. In practice, one too many employee has sued because of a bad reference and few companies divulge that information. Most HR departments, when asked, will confirm dates of service and last title.

Note that I said confirm. This means that if I call up and say, “When did John Doe work for you and what was his title?” they won’t answer. But, if I say, “I’m doing a reference check on John Doe. I have that he worked for you from June of 1998 to August 2006 and that his last job title was Sr. Director, New Products. Is that correct?” They’ll either say, “yes” or “no.”

But, the real answer to your question is, if you want to know what a former company will say about you, then call them up and ask. You can say, “This is John Doe and I want to know what you would say about me in a reference check.” Or, you can just say you are checking references for John Doe. Go ahead and ask, “why did he leave?” They’ll either answer or say, “we don’t release that information.”

But, I get the sense that you are hoping to be able to lie about why your employment was unceremoniously terminated. Don’t. It will come back to bite you. I promise. The business world is surprisingly small. Any lie you make will be exposed. Do not risk it. Just, don’t.

As for dollar amounts, most companies won’t reveal salary information (see above). However, as a warning, some companies require W2s from your previous job. I guess it saves them the phone calls.

So, call and ask, but don’t lie.

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9 thoughts on “What Can HR Divulge?

  1. If you are even thinking about lying, consider that Evil just answered your question about what the HR department is likely to say about you when asked. HR is not the only source of info and it doesn’t take a major feat of social engineering to get your co-workers talking about you. Liars beware!

  2. Wally–that is an excellent point. HR usually follows the rules, but your co-workers and bosses rarely do. You can’t afford to be anything less than honest.

  3. The answers that have been given are certainly true and cover the vast majority of situations, but I’d like to add a caveat. There are times when the HR Dept. may be obligated to disclose the nature of a termination. These include those situations where the “public good” might be involved. In California, for example, there was a CA Supreme Court decision involving a teacher who was terminated for sexual harrassment. It centered around the obligation of the school district to disclose this to subsequent employers asking about it, lest others be exposed to predation. This “duty to disclose” is an area that is still very much an evolving area of employment law. So…. there may be a chance (albeit a small one) the employer should disclose the reason for a termination, depending on the reason, the industry and the situation involved. In the chemical industry these questions were much discussed regarding terminations for drug use by plant operators, for example. If another chemical company wanted to know why an operator left and you failed to tell them, what liability existed if they hired the operator and he again used drugs, caused a release or explosion and killed someone?

    Something to think about, from both a legal and moral standpoint.

  4. This is a really interesting topic to me because I always read that most companies won’t give references beyond confirming dates of employment and title. However, I check references as part of my job, and I have never once made a reference call where the company refused to answer my (very detailed) questions. Maybe this is because I rarely call HR departments and instead always ask job applicants for past/present supervisors instead? (In fact, I insist on speaking to supervisors rather than HR because I want to ask detailed questions that a manager would be best able to answer. By “insist,” I mean I require that the applicant make those people available to me. I wouldn’t risk a job offer without that.)

  5. Anonymous–

    You are right–there is a world of difference between asking HR and asking a former supervisor. HR will follow policy and procedure. Managers will leak like a sieve.

  6. Another way I like to find out if someone is “rehireable” when the company is providing “limited” information:
    1) is John Doe eligible for rehire with company?
    2) If the answer is “no” – do you have a “no rehire” policy with the company?

    If the answer is no to the no rehire policy with said company – I have my answer about the John / Jane Doe in question.

  7. So if I quit my job because my supervisor was unethical and irresponsible, doesn’t it seem unfair for a future employer to go on one opinion. I worked for this employer for six years. I moved into management myself. The problem was the store director and this new manager were friends. (her father plays golf with the man)She treated employees poorly and lied about situations to cover up the fact that she is inept. This caused considerable tension for me because of her I never had the information I needed to run the store. (such as a semi delivery showing up twelve hours earlier than normal) At any rate if she gave me poor marks with a future employer and I consider them slanderous wouldn’t I still be able to sue her and the company because of her misconduct?

  8. Can you please answer my question,EvilHRLady? I was fired from Dollar General Distribution for being over hours. One of the main reasons I was over hours is because I was getting harrassed and started to not want to come to work. Bad decision, I know. I know how to handle a situation like that better,now, and besides, I changed departments right before i got fired to get away from that. I still got fired, though, and I was wondering if a supervisor could maybe overwrite my "no-rehire"? It's not the one the fired me, but a different one that would like me to work for him. Does this typically happen? Can it be done? Do you know? I know you might not know dollar general's policies, but is it a possibility that YOU have seen before? If you can give me any information, I would GREATLY appreciate it. I would love to go back. I liked it there. I just didn't like the men that acted like they were 12, but there ARE other departments. I had no trouble in the department I switched to right before I got fired. Thank you so much..

  9. I worked as a pre- school teacher for a precshool for over 2 years. I was a great employee. I was not let go, due to anything regarding job performance, being late, calling out sick or not doing a good job with my students. There was an issue about my older daughter being bullied on several occassions. I expressed my concerns to the school multiple times and nothing was done about it. Finally, I confronted the child and basically just asked her to stop and that there would most likely be a meeting with her Mom, my self and the school to get this issue worked out. I completed the year for May & June. Then for the folloiwng year I was asked not to come back, although I was told when I left for the summer in June that I was coming back in the fall as usual. I was told by my supervisor that she would tell employers I was re-hireable elsewhwere, but not at her facility. Either way that looks bad. I don’t want it to hinder my job search. Please advise me on what I should do.
    Thank you, Nicole Lounsbury

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