By Christopher R. Hedican, Baird Holm, LLP, Legislative Director, Nebraska SHRM State Council
After 14 years of effort, employers in Nebraska finally achieved victory when Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (pictured below) signed into law Legislative Bill 959, which provides certain protections to employers that provide job references. Consequently, Nebraska now joins some 35 other states that provide various forms of statutory immunity to employers providing references. From the inception of this endeavor over a decade ago, members of the Nebraska SHRM State Council drove the process that produced this important law.
Randy Stevenson, former counsel for the Human Resource Association of the Midlands (HRAM), the largest Nebraska SHRM chapter, and Scott S. Moore, former State Legislative Director and current counsel to HRAM, were key players in the development of the proposed legislation. Bruce Stec, current president of HRAM, testified for the bill on behalf of SHRM in 2006 when he served as Nebraska SHRM Legislative Director. Those initial efforts proved unsuccessful given the composition of the Business and Labor Committee at that time, but the work established a critical foundation for the current success over a decade later.
In the summer of 2011, Scott Messersmith, a former member of the Nebraska SHRM State Council and Andy Kresha, both renewed the drive to make the reference legislation law. Fremont-based State Senator Charlie Janssen introduced LB 959 in this year’s legislative session. A large number of representatives of business testified for the bill, including Messersmith and Kresha, who each recounted compelling personal experiences as human resource leaders that justified the law. Lobbyists for several employer trade groups also brought their support. SHRM headquarters further provided advice that helped me prepare for my testimony on behalf of Nebraska SHRM as its current Legislative Director and identify those businesses and persons who should also testify. I found particularly helpful the transcript SHRM sent me of the testimony from the 2006 Business and Labor Committee hearing on the last effort to pass the law. This helped me shape the arguments and respond to anticipated criticism when we testified this year. Additionally, several other members of SHRM and its local chapters from key industries wrote letters in support of LB 959. Finally, we enlisted some key employers to marshal their lobbyists to voice support for the bill.
Moore helped negotiate compromise with the lawyers for the Business and Labor Committee to respond to senators who stood in opposition to the bill as originally drafted. After a unanimous vote of support in the legislature, the Governor signed LB 959 on April 12, 2012.
Essentially, the legislation provides immunity from liability to an employer who provides reference information to a prospective employer about a current or former employee, so long as the employer providing the information has received a consent signed by the employee that meets the requirements of LB 959. If proper consent has been received, certain information about the current or former employee's pay, job duties, performance, attendance, drug/alcohol test results, workplace behavior (including acts of violence or harassment), reasons for separation, and eligibility for rehire may be disclosed without liability, unless the current or former employee can prove that the information was false and that the employer providing the information had knowledge of its falsity or acted with malice or reckless disregard for the truth.