You can’t give a bad reference, can you?
That is a comment we hear from time to time from employers who are usually not sure what is permissible & what is not.
So, let’s look at the basics first.
- There is generally no obligation to provide a reference. The exceptions we know of are the financial services and the care sector.
- If you do provide a reference, it should be honest, both for the potential employer who receives it and for the (presumably ex) employee who is its subject.
- It should also be factual.
If you have fairly dismissed an employee, whatever the reason, you should not tell a potential employer that he/she was wonderful because that would be both dishonest & misleading. Equally, if an employee resigns in the course of a disciplinary process, you should say so – it is honest and factual.
Remember that opinions are harder to justify than facts
Avoid giving negative comments in a reference if you could not justify them in a court or tribunal. This is why so many employers will only give references which are purely factual, i.e. X worked between these dates, job title, attendance record.
A common question asked in reference requests is “would you employ Tom/Dick/Harry again – if not, why not. An equally popular response is to answer “No, against company policy”.
Sometimes employers will feel particular sympathy for an employee they have dismissed and provide a really positive reference in order to help them obtain another job as quickly as possible. They are then surprised when/if that same reference is used against then at an unfair dismissal hearing. Be equally cautious if you are asked to give a reference over the phone – do you really know that the person you are speaking with is who they say they are ??
Sometimes you might be tempted to give a reference which seems like a glowing tribute, but really hides a second meaning. Here are a few of our favourites :-
- If you get him to work for you, you will be particularly fortunate – real meaning is he’s lazy
- Every hour with him was a happy hour – real meaning, has a drink problem
- I urge you to waste no time in making this candidate an offer of employment – real meaning, we’re really glad he has gone
- His true ability was deceiving – real meaning, a compulsive liar
- There is nothing we could teach him – real meaning, very stupid
- Works well under constant supervision real meaning, but it is essential
If you have any of your own favourites, please do share them with us