There’s another important factor to consider when considering whether or not to allow current employees to be references for a department employee: The employer should want to see good employees advance their careers. If an employee has performed well, there is absolutely no reason not to let prospective employers know about it and to be aware of that good performance while working for the employer.
If the departing employee doesn’t want to sign a waiver allowing current employees to speak to a prospective employer, for whatever reason, then the employer can go right back his “no comment” regarding requests for references. One would think, however, that not wanting co-workers to serve as references should raise a major red flag for the prospective employer.
If, on the other hand, the departing employee wants to ask former employees to serve as references, the current employer has nothing to worry about at all. No matter what they say about the departing employee, the current employer couldn’t possibly be at risk, since the references themselves are no longer employees!
The whole notion of giving as well as getting references is consistent with the idea that people who have performed well should be able to ask co-workers to say so. By the same token, enabling current employees to state facts and give honestly held opinions could also help another employer avoid making an inappropriate and costly hiring mistake – not because there were necessarily any problems with the departing employee’s job performance, but simply because the departing employee just isn’t right for the job the prospective employer hopes to fill!