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Re: Letters of Reference Vance, Kendall 05 Mar 2004 15:53 UTC

GC> What about a library director who on interviewing a
GC> prospective librarian asked about a
GC> previous position? The candidate explained that it was an
GC> awkward situation that she was glad
GC> to be away from, and let it go at that. She did not list that place as a
reference or give
GC> any contact numbers for that place.

GC> The library director, after the candidate left, without
GC> telling the candidate, went on the
GC> web, sought out contact numbers for staff at that library,
GC> and asked about the candidate. Of
GC> course he was not given positive information by that library, and the
candidate had no
GC> opportunity to respond, and the job offer was rescinded.

GC> The point is, is this unethical, and is contacting  a prior employer
against the
GC> interviewee's wishes legal?

While it might be legal to ask for references in violation of a candidates
wishes (the ethical dimension is, at base, a personal matter stemming from
one's own character and sense of fairness), slander and defamation of
character are not legal. It is entirely possible that a candidate might
specifically omit from any list of references an individual that is likely
to slander or defame that candidate.  From :
"Some statements, such as an untrue accusation of having committed a crime,
having a loathsome disease <I> or being unable to perform one's
occupation</I>, are treated as slander per se since the harm and malice are
obvious and therefore usually result in general and even punitive damage
recovery by the person harmed"  (italics mine). The statements that led to
the rescission of the job offer, as outlined above, may or may not have been
accurate; as the person responsible for evaluating this candidate, you have
no empirical basis for making such a determination (if you did, the
reference check would be obviated at the outset). But, I would feel
obligated to let that candidate know what I had done.

A person does have the right to respond, and seek legal remedy, wherever
that person has been the victim of slander or defamation (this is a matter
of law, not personal opinion). For this reason, it only fair to let your
candidate know that his job offer was rescinded due to the unfavorable
information that was provided by the library from whence references were
sought against the candidates wishes. If  one feels that seeking these
references was in no way underhanded or unethical, one ought not feel the
need to conceal the fact that these references were sought and obtained in
the stated manner. This is not to say any defamation occurred in the case in
question; that is something that can and should be settled between the
parties involved, in or out of court.

On the other hand, who would want to work in such a climate as the one
described. Perhaps having this job offer rescinded was blessing in disguise
for this hapless job-seeker.


Kendall Vance
Interlibrary Loan/Periodicals Management Assistant
Waubonsee Community College
Todd Library
Route 47 at Harter Rd.
Sugar Grove, IL 60554
Ph# 630.466.7900 x2333
Fax# 630.466.7799