Rhode Island References laws & HR compliance analysis

Rhode Island References: What you need to know

Reference checks are a useful way for employers to gather information about applicants that they might not discover through the application and interview process. However, despite the usefulness of checking references, many employers are legitimately concerned about lawsuits from former employees based on information provided in response to a request for a reference, and liability for the actions of employees where the company failed to conduct a thorough reference check. This creates a quandary for employers.
Employers are also concerned about liability for the actions of employees where the company failed to conduct a thorough reference check. Rhode Island, like many states, has recognized the tort of negligent hiring (Mainella v. Staff Builders Indus. Servs., Inc., 608 A.2d 1141 (1992)). Employers may be liable for intentional or negligent acts of an employee if they knew or should have known of an employee's dangerous propensities. Therefore, employers should be diligent in conducting reference and background checks on new employees, particularly when the job involves contact with the public.
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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. Rhode Island is among the states that have reference immunity laws. Under Rhode Island law, employers are immune from liability if they provide fair and unbiased information about a current or former employee's job performance in response to a request from a prospective employer, or the current or former employee (R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-6.4-1(c)). For example, an employer was not liable for defamation when ...

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