I think my principal is breaking a law (or at least procedure)

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Pisces_Fish, May 9, 2009.

  1. Pisces_Fish

    Pisces_Fish Fanatic

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    May 9, 2009

    I plan to return to the school where I teach next year even though I'm unhappy. I decided to return for a number of reasons, mainly because of the job market, but also because I'd like to keep my grade level so I can focus more on management and less on planning.

    My principal has made several comments about leaving our school or transferring within the district. She basically threatens us. She says that we'd better have a "valid reason" for wanting to leave or she'll make her "disdain known" to principals from other schools that call for references. WHAT?? Seriously? She can't do that, right? She also said that if/when we plan to leave we need to tell her first we want a good reference.

    I think she's acting this way because a lot of teachers last year left (12?) so I think she's scared she looks bad to other admins in the district.

    I'm not asking because I plan to do something about it, I just want to know. I'll deal with the hassles when I'm actually ready to leave.
     
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  3. SpecialPreskoo

    SpecialPreskoo Moderator

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    May 9, 2009

    WOW!!! Threats if you leave?? Geeeee! Around here most people don't want to leave... pray they don't get a pink slip even if the job isn't the best... it is a job.

    I don't know what to tell you. I'm surprised! Just wow.
     
  4. AFWifeinUtah

    AFWifeinUtah Comrade

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    I would contact the union with this question. It seems unethical. I don't think she could give you a bad reference for leaving. I guess if I did leave (I know you said you are not due to job market) I would say that I need a new experience. I am job hunting right now and have been for the past 10 months. You are so lucky to have a position.
     
  5. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    May 9, 2009

    I think it is illegal for her to say any more than confirm your dates of employment if they call to ask if/when you were employed there. However, if they call her as a reference, then she could very well let her disdain known. My question is, why does she care if she won't be the principal there anymore if/when she gets her transfer?
     
  6. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    May 9, 2009

    It is not illegal. When you apply at another place, you sign a form giving them permission to contact your previous employer for a reference. Unless you refuse, she has the right to say anything she wants, so long as it is true and so long as it is related to the questions asked on the reference form.

    So she could very legally say, "I asked all of my employees, as a professional courtesy, to let me know if they were job hunting before I get a call for a reference. Since MaryJane didn't do this, I feel she is not being professional. I'm so disappointed with her level of professionalism." That would not set well with another principal who was considering you for a job. She will come across as sounding reasonable, while you will come across as being sneaky and leaving your old employer in a lurch. (Even though nothing could be further from the truth.)

    This is why, if you want to get another job, you never burn your bridges. As long as she doesn't give false information or information outside of the scope of what you have authorized (and whether or not your boss feels you are professional,etc, is unfortunately, relevant and authorized) then she has broken no law.

    Now if she says you were late to work regularly, and you weren't, then that is illegal because it is slandering your reputation. If she said you were having an affair with the milkman, that would be slanderous because it is untrue and hurts your ability to get work. It would also be a problem because it is outside the scope of a business question. (Unless it were a religious school with a specific morality clause...)

    But most of the questions on a reference form leave the field wide open.. such as "Would you hire this person again? Why or why not?" If you have authorized the reference (and if you don't, they aren't going to consider you for a job) and she is directly answering it, then no, she is not breaking any laws. It is asking her what she would do. Another common question on the reference forms is what is the person's strongest ability and what is their greatest weakness. If she chose to answer "I can't think of a strength right now, but her biggest weakness would be..." again, she is totally within the bounds of answer the reference form you authorized, but she could totally annihilate you. You come out looking bad, and she has "legally" done nothing wrong.

    People often mistakenly say you can only give dates of employment blah, blah, blah, but that simply isn't true. That is true unless YOU authorize something more, and those little reference check forms they make you sign authorize more. Of course, if you don't sign them, you haven't got much of a chance of getting a job.

    So if you are planning on looking elsewhere, you need to make sure you let her know first. If it were me, I'd make sure to give a neutral reason (ie one that has nothing to do with the poor-excuse-for-a-principal that you think she is.) I'd say that I might be moving, would be happier working closer to home, need to move closer to my child's daycare, etc (so long as it is true) so that she doesn't get vindictive.

    The truth of the matter is, there are nasty people out there who enjoy nothing more than screwing with other people's lives. It somehow makes them feel better and more competent. They rarely get caught doing something illegal, but they can still do serious damage to your career.
     
  7. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    May 9, 2009

    Pisces,
    Just out of curiosity, I went back and looked at the last few refernce requests I got (I supervise a fair number of practicuum students, and they always need references.) I know that none of the districts in this area will accept pre-written "reference letters" anymore. They have to mail or email a form directly to the references, and they have to fill them out and mail or email them directly back to the personnel office. They won't accept them unless the are directly mailed (ie the applicant can't drop them off.) They will onlly use official school email accounts -- otherwise it has to be mailed to the school address.

    Here is what they basically ask for (just in case you are curious)

    Rate the applicant as:
    Excellent Very Good Good Fair Poor
    in each of these areas:

    Knowledge of Content
    Planning Skills
    Instructional Skills
    Skill in Discipline
    Providing a classroom environment conducive to learning
    Evaluating Student Progress
    Establishing Teacher-Student Rapport
    Professionalism
    Staff Relations
    Enthusiasm
    Attendance
    Punctuality
    Ability to Work with Others
    Personal Appearance
    Dependability and Reliability
    Attitude Toward Work
    Quality of Work Produced
    Initiative
    Flexibility
    Ability to Work with Children
    Overall rating of the applicant.

    They also give you a small place at the bottom (it is two lines long) where you can add additional comments. They don't want the long, flowerly letters anymore -- here, they won't even accept them.

    I don't know if it is the same every place else.
     
  8. Superteacher81

    Superteacher81 Comrade

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    May 9, 2009

    The last school I was at the AP told me all they could do was verify employment. That's probably all she can do so I don't know why she's threatening people. I'm glad you are deciding to stick it out though. In today's economy/job market, I'd feel lucky to have a job even if it wasn't exactly what I wanted.
     
  9. frogger

    frogger Devotee

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    May 9, 2009

    NC doesn't have unions or a union that will back you up, we just have the NCAE which doesn't actually come into meetings with you.
     
  10. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    Superteach,
    That may very well be the district's regulation. I know several cities that have rules saying you can't do more than that -- but there is no law. It is usually a district or city mandate.

    I know I ran into this problem once. Prior to teacher, I worked for the city government. I left to go back to school for my Master's. After I finished, I applied for a job. They wouldn't consider anyone for employment without a reference from their most recent employer. I had a wonderful letter written when I left by my prior employer. They said their policy was they couldn't accept anything other than their official reference questionaire. They sent off the form to my former employer. She sent it back, with a xerox copy of the city's new directive that they were not allowed to give references. They could only verify dates of employment. This was a city policy -- not the law. People often confuse policy for law. It is not illegal -- it is just often against policy.

    Unfortuantely for me, that potential employer said they would not consider anyone without a positive reference from their most recent employer. Since I could not provide it (because of the city's new policy) I couldn't even be considered for employment with them. (That was their policy, and employers have the right to insitute their own policies so long as they aren't discriminatory based on race, creed, color, or national origin.) It really stunk.
     
  11. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    May 9, 2009

    By law in many regions, employees enjoy a great deal of protections. If you give a bad reference, you expose yourself to the risk of a future lawsuit. For this reason, many employers choose to adopt very strict reference policies, which sometimes end up hurting prospective employers who call them for a reference.

    You can strike a middle ground when it comes to giving references, satisfying legal requirements while also meeting the need for honest references.

    Step 1:
    Designate a single person in your organization to handle reference requests. Often, this person is someone in human resources, since he or she would have access to the relevant information. Work with him or her to develop a clear policy on references, and make it clear that all requests for references are to be sent directly to this person, and no one else.

    In addition to ensuring that all requests are handled properly, this will also ensure the validity of references. Bad employees may choose to have friends stand in as "references" if they suspect that they will be getting a bad reference. If a company knows that it can call any phone number at your company and be forwarded to the person who handles reference requests, it can be assured that a reference is genuine.

    Step 2:
    Only give references to people who are authorized to request them. References should only be given out to prospective future employers who have informed applicants that their references will be checked. If someone calls to request a reference, you should always verify this. Some companies require reference requests in writing, for this very reason.

    If you suspect that a reference request is not genuine, ask them to have the ex-employee contact you and confirm that it is ok to release reference information.

    Step 3:
    Stick to the facts. Some employers choose to take this very literally, and when called for a reference, they will only confirm that someone did work for them, and provide the dates of employment.

    If you choose to give more information than this, especially if you plan to give a negative reference, choose your words carefully. Only make statements which can be factually backed up, and if you state an opinion, make this clear.

    "Mary Sue was a bad employee," for example, is not the way to go.

    "In my opinion, Mary Sue was not a good fit for the position" would be more appropriate, and it allows the company requesting the reference to request additional information.

    Information you can provide:

    The employee's dates of employment.The employee's job title, and any promotions.
    Any awards or commendations received.
    The on-time record for the employee.
    Information you cannot provide:

    Speculation, opinions, or hearsay.
    Information not specifically related to job performance.
    Information which could compromise the employee's privacy.
    Step 4:
    Do not repeat gossip or violate employee privacy. It's not just illegal, it's also poor form. Stick specifically to information which is related to your employee's job performance, and do not repeat hearsay or information which is not relevant to the discussion.

    Be aware that in many regions of the world, it is illegal to discuss an employee's health, sexual orientation, political ideals, religious beliefs, or family status. If you think that a piece of information is not relevant to the job, it's safe to assume it's not safe to repeat.

    Step 5:
    Do not provide information which has not been requested. A request for references is not a request for a novella. Answer questions concisely and clearly, and wait to be asked for additional explanations.

    For example, if a prospective employer asks if you would hire someone again, say "no," not "no, because..." Always wait to be asked for explanations or supplementary information.

    Step 6:
    Consider using a release form. A release form will protect you from the legal liability of giving honest references. When employees exit your company, inform them that you will only give neutral references confirming dates of employment and job title unless they sign the release form.

    A release form can also be used to provide negative references, in a sneaky way. Employees who are likely to get negative references are probably aware of this, and so they will decline to sign the release form. When asked for a reference in these cases, you can say that company policy only allows you to give neutral references for employees who have not signed releases, allowing the requester to draw his or her own conclusions from that information.

    Giving references is a legal and ethical minefield which must be navigated carefully. By sticking to the facts and speaking without malice, you should be able to give negative references without exposing yourself to the risk of a lawsuit. You may also want to consider recording phone calls and conversations related to reference requests for additional legal protection.
     
  12. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    May 9, 2009

    I don't know about NC, but in Ohio:

    Do you know? Ohio has a specific law, R.C. 4113.71, that protects employers that give negative job references. One employer can give another employer information about an employee’s job performance without fear of liability, unless:

    1. the former employer knows the information is false, or makes the disclosure with the intent to mislead, in bad faith, or with a malicious purpose, or

    2. the information is provided in violation of the employment discrimination laws (for example, an employer gives good references to white employees and bad references to black employees).



    In addition to this Ohio law, employers should also be cognizant of the fact that you can be held liable for not divulging information when providing an employment reference.
     
  13. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    May 9, 2009

    Okay, I did finally find it for North Carolina on my business law site:

    References


    In North Carolina, a previous employer is free to provide any non-confidential information about a previous employee, so long as it's true and isn't provided to maliciously harm the employee. An employer who provides false information that disparages the employee may be liable for defamation. In order to avoid potential liability, many employers often refuse to comment on a past employee's job performance and confirm only dates of hire and separation, plus wage or salary information.
     
  14. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    May 9, 2009

    Okay, ... this is reprinted from the North Carolina Lawyers' Association:

    Many job seekers are blithely unaware that their former employers all too often say things that can damage or halt their career prospects. Most of this is due to the erroneous belief that it's somehow illegal to ask about things other than title and dates of employment during a reference check.

    This is simply not true.

    Today's courts have literally invented a whole new body of law called "Employment Law." Bundled in this tangle of law is employment pre-screening, otherwise known as reference checking.

    As a result, many employers restrict information given about their former employees to name, title and dates of employment. The problem is that there is no hard and fast rule about what can or cannot be divulged during the reference call. Also, any eventual case that an employee tries to bring up through the legal system must meet fairly stringent tests and they must be proven. Additionally, over 30 states have adopted reference check immunity laws. These laws generally offer protection to employers who provide job references for current or former employees.

    The reality
    There is no reference police officer watching over your past employer. Essentially, your past employer (or any reference) can take a few moments on the phone with a total stranger and either increase your chances of obtaining a new position or absolutely ruin them. Most anything can be discussed in a reference check. Most employers are reluctant to give much information. However, when the interviewer adopts a more conversational style, many employers find themselves discussing relevant areas of an employee's past performance.

    For example, here are some questions typically discussed during a quality reference check:

    What was the nature of your affiliation with him/her?
    What were his/her duties and responsibilities as you saw them?
    How would you evaluate his/her management ability?
    How would you appraise his/her technical ability?
    How did he/she get along with others?
    How did he/she deal with upper management?
    How did he/she take criticism?
    What do you feel are his/her strongest points?
    Does he/she have any weaknesses that would prevent him/her from succeeding on the job?
    Are there any bad habits that you know of?
    Was he/she terminated or did he/she leave voluntarily?
    Would you re-employ this person if you had an appropriate opening?
    On a scale of 1 to 10, rank him/her as an overall (add title here).
    You'll notice that these questions go way beyond "name, rank and serial number."

    For your protection:

    1.) Get their permission: Always obtain permission from any potential references you wish to use. In fact, you might want to test the waters first to determine what kind of a reference each individual might give you. If in doubt, ask them ahead of time if you can "count on them for a good reference."

    Consider this: A bad boss can mean a bad reference. Will you trust your last supervisor to give you a good reference? If future employers contact this person when you apply for a new job, it could spell the difference between a job offer or not. If you are not in a situation where you can approach this person, you may want to consider a professional reference checking service. These are businesses that provide reference checks and pre-employment screens. They also provide this service to potential employees who would like to find out exactly what their references will say about them before their potential employer calls them. (Look for pre-employment screening services.)

    2.) Keep references private: This is confidential information you are entrusted with. It should only be given to those who have a "need to know." Your references should only be given to a prospective employer who is about to give you a formal job offer. Never put references on you resume or post them on a job board.

    Summary
    Never assume your references will restrict themselves to giving only the bare essentials about your prior employment. Don't take for granted that they will spend the time and give an overly enthusiastic recommendation. Take precautions now to ensure you know exactly what your references are saying about you. If you find yourself in a less than ideal situation, you may want to consult an attorney who specializes in employment law.
     
  15. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    May 9, 2009

    Here is the actual law from North Carolina, word-for-word:

    JOB REFERENCE LAW

    § 1-539.12. Immunity from civil liability for employers disclosing information.

    (a) An employer who discloses information about a current or former employee's jobhistory or job performance to a prospective employer of the current or former employee uponrequest of the prospective employer or upon request of the current or former employee isimmune from civil liability and is not liable in civil damages for the disclosure or anyconsequences of the disclosure. This immunity shall not apply when a claimant shows by apreponderance of the evidence both of the following:
    (1) The information disclosed by the current or former employer was false.
    (2) The employer providing the information knew or reasonably should have known that the information was false.
    (b) For purposes of this section, "job performance" includes:
    (1) The suitability of the employee for re-employment;
    (2) The employee's skills, abilities, and traits as they may relate to suitability forfuture employment; and
    (3) In the case of a former employee, the reason for the employee's separation.(c) The provisions of this section apply to any employee, agent, or other representative ofthe current or former employer who is authorized to provide and who provides information inaccordance with the provisions of this section. For the purposes of this section, "employer" alsoincludes a job placement service but does not include a private personnel service as defined inG.S. 95-47.1 or a job listing service as defined in G.S. 95-47.19 except as provided hereinafter.The provisions of this section apply to a private personnel service as defined in G.S, 95-47.1 anda job listing service as defined in G.S. 95-47.19 only to the extent that the service conveysinformation derived from credit reports, court records, educational records, and informationfurnished to it by the employee or prior employers and the service identifies the source of theinformation.(d) This section does not affect any privileges or immunities from civil liabilityestablished by another section of the General Statutes or available at common law. (1997-478, s.1.)



    BLACKLISTING LAW

    § 14-355. Blacklisting employees.

    If any person, agent, company or corporation, after having discharged any employee from his or its service, shall prevent or attempt to prevent, by word or writing of any kind, such discharged employee from obtaining employment with any other person, company or corporation, such person, agent or corporation shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500.00); and such person, agent, company or corporation shall be liable in penal damages to such discharged person, to be recovered by civil action. This section shall not be construed as prohibiting any person or agent of any company or corporation from furnishing in writing, upon request, any other person, company or corporation to whom such discharged person or employee has applied for employment, a truthful statement of the reason for such discharge. (1909, c. 858, s. 1; C.S., s.4477; 1993, c. 539, s. 235; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 24, s. 14(c).)







    North Carolina Department of Labor
    Wage and Hour Bureau
    1101 Mail Service Center
    Raleigh, NC 27699-1101
    (919) 807-2796 or (toll-free NC only) 1-800-NC-LABOR
    Web site: http://www.nclabor.com
     
  16. Muttling

    Muttling Devotee

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    May 9, 2009

    To the OP...

    Take it up with your union rep or drop an anonymous complaint to the human resources department.




    On the legal aspects...

    The previous posters are correct, it is NOT illegal to provide such information.


    HOWEVER, many human resources officers strictly limit reference information to verification of employment period to avoid the risk of a defamation law suit.

    The sharp human resources folks will use code questions to get the answer without the legal risk. The most common one is "Would you rehire this person if you had an opening?" A no sends up BIG red flags but doesn't risk law suit unless the person answering the question starts explaining why.
     
  17. Pisces_Fish

    Pisces_Fish Fanatic

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    May 9, 2009

    Oh, no, she's not transferring, she was referring to people that want to or are thinking about it.
     
  18. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    May 9, 2009

    Oh, okay. Makes more sense that way. Sounds like she's afraid of how she'll look to others, but who is she to threaten teachers like that. They could be transferring for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with her.
     
  19. SpecSub

    SpecSub Comrade

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    May 9, 2009

    I read this as it would hurt your ability to get to work. :haha:
     
  20. ANGRY AL

    ANGRY AL Companion

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    May 9, 2009

    Principals who don't want to have to go through the bother of conducting interviews and filling a position will blackball teachers. They don't even have to say anything directly negative to do it, either. An old principal of mine told a school district who hired one of our Spanish teachers, "I know he does a lot of vocabulary with them." This was a red flag to the district that was considering him because they only wanted complete conversation techniques in their language classes, not vocabulary. He found out what our old principal said after the hiring committee decided to ignore those comments and hired this guy anyway. Getting blackballed is one thing. Getting proof or someone to go on the record to prove it, is quite another thing.
     
  21. terptoteacher

    terptoteacher Connoisseur

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    May 9, 2009

    My former principal told me that at their district wide principal meetings, they always talked about candidates for jobs. If there was an opening at their school, they ususally had to go to the district office and sort through the files of applicants to pick their favs. So they would talk together and recommend or not recommend which files to pick.
     

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