Hamilton Giving References for a Former Employee

Giving or getting references requires good judgement

Employers are often called by a former employee's prospective employer for a work reference. Care should be taken in giving work references, especially for a less-than-satisfactory employee.

Some questions and responses are fairly safe:

  • Date and term of employment
  • whether the position was full-time or part-time
  • A job description of the employee
  • The salary range

Often an employer doing reference-checking will volunteer what the employee told them, and let you comment or correct.

You need to be careful about saying negative things, that may border on defamation. Even not giving a reference, when doing so for other employees, can be as bad (according to court decisions).

Here are some suggestions to make reference-giving manageable:

  • Require a leaving employee to give you written permission to respond to a reference check (include this in your standard Release agreement, signed at the end of employment)
  • Ensure that only authorized people provide employee references (of course, a former employee might still have a friendly colleague provide a good reference)
  • Ask that reference check requests be made in writing and in turn respond in writing.
  • Keep to job-related comments

Of course, you can try turning a negative into a positive. For example, if a person cannot be depended on for independent work, you might say, "works well under close management supervision."

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