Business Advice

Explain My Severance - Part 2: Neutral Reference

Explain my severance:  What is it?

The Neutral Reference is a promise by your employer that, if someone calls in for a reference, the employer will only provide certain information.  Typically, this information is limited to the term of your employment and positions held.  Sometimes, albeit rarely, a neutral reference will also include salary information.

Explain my severance:  Doesn't a neutral reference make me sound bad?

Probably not.  Neutral references are pretty commonplace.  Also, most companies that provide a neutral reference also say that the company policy is to only provide that information and that it never provides additional information.

Explain my severance: But what if someone calls my (jerk) boss?

There are basically two kinds of reference checks that employers do.  The first category is basically employment verification.  This is where your prospective employer makes sure you are not lying on your resume.  This is where the neutral reference kicks in.  The second category is a called a "professional reference," but is really a personal reference.  This is where you have to do your own work.  When you interview for a new job, be prepared to provide professional references.  This is a request for people who will vouch for you as an employee.  This is a personal thing.  Before you head out for interviews, reach out to people with whom you had a good working relationship and ask if they would serve as a reference.  Then that's the name you give.  Sure, a prospective employer might call your boss, but that usually takes a lot of diligence.  Offer up some names of people with whom you have/had a good working relationship for this category of reference.

Explain my severance: But I want a positive reference!

That is tougher.   Especially in situations where the decision to terminate was not amicable.  If you do want a positive reference, the best way to do it is usually an agreed-upon letter that the employer would send to anyone making an inquiry.

Explain my severance: The Upshot.

The neutral reference is pretty common.  Some employees are afraid that it makes them sound bad, but that is not usually the case.  In fact, many companies have a standard policy where it only gives neutral references.  The best thing an employee can do is reach out to people who he/she had a good relationship with and provide those names as professional references.

If you need help with your severance agreement, please feel free to contact us.  We charge a reasonable flat fee to review your severance agreement and offer same-day service.

Sample Neutral Reference (annotated)

Read More:

Explain My Severance - Part 1:  The Release

Explain My Severance - Part 3:  Non-Disparagement Clause

Explain My Severance - Part 4:  The Non-Admission Clause

Does My Company Need an Employee Handbook?

If you are going to have more than a few employees, you should seriously consider creating an employee handbook to explain the rules, policies and procedures of the workplace. A well written employee handbook will set forth the expectations of the workplace – both what your employees can expect from you and what you can expect from your employees. An employee manual may also help to protect you and your company in the event of an employee lawsuit. The best course of action is to have an employment attorney prepare a handbook for you, but no matter what, you should make sure that your employee handbook contains the following:

1. Mission Statement. A good mission statement defines what an organization is and its reason for being. Your mission statement should define who your primary customers are, identify the products and services you produce, and describe the geographical location in which you operate.

2. Employment at Will. Be very careful here. If you do not indicate that the employee is an employee at will, the employee may argue that the employee handbook creates an employment contract. Click here for more information on employment at will.

3. Equal Employment Opportunity. State that your company provides equal employment opportunities to all individuals, and encourage your employees to contact the appropriate staff with any issues related to equal opportunity/discrimination, without fear of reprisal. And commit your company to equal employment opportunity – it’s the right thing to do.

4. Salary, Bonuses and Benefits. Explain employees’ wages and benefits. Do so clearly and iin writing. This should include information related to overtime compensation. Also, note that under the New York Wage Theft Prevention Act, this information must be in writing, signed by the employee. Click here for more information on the New York Wage Theft Prevention Act.

5. Disciplinary Procedures. Make sure that your employees understand what is and is not tolerated. Also, let them know how discipline is handled. Make sure that you also state that the company always reserves the right to decide to discipline or fire an employee at any time. Don’t get bogged down by an overly formulaic disciplinary policy.

6. Computer Policy. Let your employees know that they should not expect privacy with respect to use of company computer equipment including their company e-mail address, company laptop, desktop and PDA. You should also include a company policy on internet, social networking, blogging, etc.

7. Vacation, Sick Time. Set forth clearly how this works. Be clear and let the employee know whether or not the company has a “use it or lose it” policy. This is just a short list of what should be in an employee handbook. If you are a New York Employer, we can help you draft an effective and economical New York Employee Handbook. A good handbook will not only set forth how employment will work, but it can also save you substantial litigation costs.

Our firm is experienced in drafting employee handbooks and other documents for litigation avoidance (e.g. progressive discipline documents, performance review templates, arbitration agreements, etc.).  We can prepare these documents for a flat fee and with a quick turnaround time.  Please contact us for more information.


EEOC Helping Small Business Understand Employment Law

Small business owners are inundated with information regarding employment discrimination laws.  It is hard enough to run a small business, let alone learn what each law requires of you.  Whereas large corporations can afford teams of expert lawyers, most small business owners do not have the same resources. The good news for small business owners is that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has launched a small business task force to help small business  owners comply with federal employment laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Equal Pay Act, Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.

According to the EEOC task force, it will explore the following issues:

  • How to reach out to small businesses using new technology
  • How to develop technical assistance and training initiatives for small businesses
  • Finding ways to help small businesses owned by minorities and by women
  • Finding the best ways to assist businesses who employ 50 or fewer people
  • How to improve the information and training available on the EEOC's website

To provide input on any of these issues, you can send an email to, or write a letter to EEOC Small Business Task Force, 131 M Street NE, Washington, DC 20507.

If you own a New York Startup or New York small business, please contact us -- we can help your business avoid its exposure to an employment lawsuit.