Pa. Law Shields Employers Who Disclose Employees’ Job Histories

June 17, 2005

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has signed legislation that protects employers from being sued over work histories they disclose about current or former employees. The measure stemmed from the case of a Pennsylvania nurse who murdered 24 patients.

The information must be requested either by the employee, or the prospective new employer. Employees who dispute the disclosed information can sue for damages if they prove in court that the employer did not act in good faith.

State Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland, originally wrote the legislation to apply to hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities, but interest from various business groups prompted her to broaden the language to all employers.

“I’m surprised how many employers were concerned they were going to be sued,” Vance said. “It allows people to give a truthful explanation of their employee’s history.”

The legislation was intended to prevent another case like that of Charles Cullen, a former registered nurse from Bethlehem. Cullen worked at hospitals and nursing facilities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for 16 years until he was caught in December 2003. At various times before that, Cullen had been fired and investigated for suspicion of causing the death of a patient.

Cullen has pleaded guilty to murdering 24 patients and attempting to kill five others in New Jersey and Pennsylvania by injecting them with lethal doses of drugs.

Employers that are asked for a reference sometimes will disclose only an employee’s dates of employment, and nothing about job performance.

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