Employers generally use reference checks to verify or gather information about job applicants. Despite the usefulness of reference checks, employers that are asked to provide references may be legitimately concerned about defamation lawsuits by former employees if negative information is provided in response to a reference request. A detailed discussion of these legal issues is available.
To deal with employers' reluctance to provide information about former employees, a number of states have enacted laws “immunizing” employers against employee claims over such disclosures. The immunity laws generally provide protection from claims by former employees for defamation of character.
Florida is among the states that have enacted reference immunity laws. Under Florida law, an employer that discloses information to a prospective employer about a former or current employee upon request of the prospective employer or of the employee is immune from civil liability for such disclosure or its consequences unless it is shown by clear and convincing evidence that the information disclosed was knowingly false or violated the civil rights of the employee (FL Stat. Sec. 768.095).
Employers are also immune from lawsuits over employment information provided at the request of a financial institution or financial regulatory agency regarding an employee's or former employee's known or suspected involvement in a violation of any state or federal law, rule, or regulation that was reported to state or federal authorities (FL Stat. Sec. 655.51).
Practical advice. Even with a reference immunity law, employers in Florida should consider taking precautionary measures when giving references, including: