When you get a reference request for an ex-employee you can’t honestly recommend, what’s the best way to respond?
Of course, the first step is to follow your company’s established practices. If the policy is to only verify dates and titles, do that with all reference calls — making exceptions to bad mouth one individual could lead to a bias claim.
Some other tips for handling these situations:
- When possible, warn departing employees if you won’t be able to provide a positive reference.
- Stick to documented facts. For example, explaining the former employee failed to meet a quota is a safer bet than a vague statement such as, “He was lazy.”
- If the employee hasn’t worked at your company for a few years, you can simply say enough time has passed that you aren’t comfortable giving a reference.
- Don’t deliver false praise or withhold vital information, such as safety concerns. In one recent court case, a company was sued after one manager gave a glowing reference about a doctor who was fired for using drugs on the job. The company was held liable after the doctor killed a patient while working for his new employer.
Have you ever been contacted for a reference about a difficult or poor-performing former employee? How did you respond? Tell us your experience in the comments section below.