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I've also gotten those calls, and I don't think it's nearly the legal minefield that people claim. I'll make my point clear enough if it's warranted.

I've also gotten a reference call for someone I terminated and gave them a positive reference, conditioned on the fact that the new company wanted someone with exactly the skills my ex-employee had. I was very clear about why it didn't work out with us, but thought that that it was a very good fit for the new place, given how they described the role and responsibilities. Ex-employee was hired and is (as far as I know) doing very well and happy there.

I think the "I'm only allowed to confirm dates of employment" is a terrible drain on the mobility of good employees and allows higher mobility than should be the case of poor employees, so I don't participate.

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