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When must an employer respond to a verification of employment request, and what information must or can be given?

Verification of employment (VOE) requests on current or former employees can come to an employer from government agencies, mortgage lenders, prospective employers, collection agents and others. They usually seek to verify employment dates, wages, likelihood of continued employment or eligibility for rehire and reason for termination. When must employers respond to such requests, and what information must or should they divulge?

Certainly, only truthful, supportable information should be shared, regardless to whom it is given. States have job reference immunity laws that can cover VOE requests, and if truthful information is given in good faith, the employer will likely be protected from defamation claims. Additionally, a signed consent from the employee should be obtained when possible, with some state immunity laws requiring consent to be protected.

Though not always clear cut, requests from federal and state government agencies and offices often require compliance, whereas most other requests do not. A request from a government agency often cites a regulation requiring the information; if not, employers can generally feel confident about sharing the information asked for, as a good faith effort to comply. These requests are often to verify wages for court decisions (such as child support) or government programs, to uncover fraudulent use of government services, or even to help an employee prove his or her identity was stolen. These requests are usually very specific in terms of the information needed, and again, any truthful information provided should not subject the employer to legal claims.

Employers are not required by law to complete VOEs from mortgage lenders, but few employers would choose to disadvantage their employees by ignoring the request. Employers may require written consent from employees before providing information to mortgage lenders and perhaps have a policy that employees must notify HR of upcoming requests. In general, though, employers complete these with truthful responses regarding the current employment situation without guaranteeing continued employment or defaming the employee.

Prospective employers may ask any number of questions, from final wage rates to job performance information. Each employer needs to determine if it will require a signed release for this information, and what type of information it will share. Employers in some states may be restricted from sharing salary history. Certain industries and positions, such as health care and those working with children, may have additional state requirements to share information that may stop a negligent hire.

Collections agencies and anyone else seeking information from employers generally do not need to be responded to, and before sharing information with them, employers may wish to seek legal counsel on a recommended policy on handling these that will best protect the employer.


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