QUIZ: What would you do? Do you give an honest reference?

You fired an employee for misuse of the Internet (He visited porn sites at work.), and for making inappropriate sexual remarks to a female co-worker.  A month later, you receive a call from a potential new employer who wants a job reference. Do you give a candid and complete report, even though you know it will probably prevent him from getting the job, and that he may threaten to sue your organization? Does it matter what kind of job the ex-employee is seeking, or whether you know the person seeking the reference? Write your response in the comment section.


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Comments 14

  1. First and foremost, there are limitations on what a former employer may say about the former employee. as much as i would wish to share with the potential new employer, once out of my hair they are the new dilemma of the new employer. Without the employee having committed a crime (something that is a violation of the Federal and/or State law), i can not further interfere in the person’s right to seek new employment.

  2. I have experienced this issue several times in providing references for former employees. I feel it is necessary to provide accurate responses to the questions being asked. In fact, we are obligated to answer truthfully otherwise when the new employer experiences negative issues, we can be sued for not providing accurate and truthful information. Likewise I want truthful and honest information when obtaining references on potential employees as well. It is unfortunate that people can hinder their employment life with a few poor choices.

  3. It’s unethical to give an undeserving person a good reference, and it’s a lie. Giving misleading information about a candidate, or inferring that a candidate would be a good hire in order to get rid of him/her is totally irresponsible. On the other hand, the person making the reference contact needs to ask the right questions, i.e., “On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate this person?” and, most importantly, “Would you hire this person again?” Any hesitancy, or anything less than an immediate, positive response by the person being contacted should send up a bright red flag to the caller. If the caller doesn’t pick up on that, he/she has no business calling references for information.

  4. If whatever happened was so terrible you felt you could not give a good reference about any aspect of the former employee’s work, then decline to give any reference. If the issue is inappropriate internet use and remarks that were not pursued through legal proceedings, then you ought to answer truthfully all questions asked by the prospective new employer without them being tainted by the issue for which the person was fired (in this case inappropriate internet use and inappropriate comments). You should then decide whether you want to divulge the reasons for firing if asked. In more serious cases, where the case for firing was more serious this information should be divulged up front, but in less serious cases it should only be divulged if the prospective employer requests it, or if it can be taken and weighed against all the other information given about said employee. You are not responsible for misrepresenting a person and nor are you responsible for making the decision for the prospective employer by giving them information in such a way as to color the choice that employer has the right to make given access to appropriate and relevant information. If, on the other hand, you want to get back at fired employee and show them that they will always and only be remembered by their worst last act, then you could ruin their chances at employment with prospective employer and risk the chance that you sound petty if the offense is not serious and was not representative of their worth and work.

  5. This is a very tough question, as it has liability issues for both me and the company. I would be surprised If an employee asks for a reference after being fired for cause, though I guess people have to explain what they’ve been doing for the past time interval. If the fired employee was good at his specific job duties, I could certainly speak positively about that, but I could also ask the caller about statements made on the job application. I might be able to guide the discussion so that I was asked a key question, like “why did this person leave the company?” or “how did he get along with co-workers?” These would give me an opening to indicate there were some issues, but that I couldn’t get into specifics. At no time would I feel at liberty to discuss the complete facts, but co-worker relations should be of major importance to prospective employers. This is a great question! I’m going to forward it to my HR person for “what-to-do” guidance!

    1. Reply to Jeff, I am an educator and will be looking for a job a a secondary Principal. One good question to pose in this situation that keeps the conversation legal and ethical, yet cuts to the point is, “Would you hire this person again, based upon their performance the past few years? Why or why not?

      The best policy is always to be honest when giving references or recommendations. Otherwise, your credibility is quickly gone in terms of helping people get college scholarships, new jobs, etc. You also are passing on a problem to another organization which, in all likelihood, will manifest itself again. Obviously, most employers want to help their employees succeed, even if it means sending their services to another company or school. But, in this case, the sending of an employee who spends work time on pornographic sites and who is inappropriate with females will almost certainly create more problems for future employers who hire him. I think one of the keys, in terms of avoiding a lawsuit, is to have these behaviors documented, witnessed, etc. Also, confronting the employee and giving him/her the opportunity to change and redeem themselves would protect the recommending boss because remediation was attempted and failed.

  6. The best policy is always to be honest when giving references or recommendations. Otherwise, your credibility is quickly gone in terms of helping people get college scholarships, new jobs, etc. You also are passing on a problem to another organization which, in all likelihood, will manifest itself again. Obviously, most employers want to help their employees succeed, even if it means sending their services to another company or school. But, in this case, the sending of an employee who spends work time on pornographic sites and who is inappropriate with females will almost certainly create more problems for future employers who hire him. I think one of the keys, in terms of avoiding a lawsuit, is to have these behaviors documented, witnessed, etc. Also, confronting the employee and giving him/her the opportunity to change and redeem themselves would protect the recommending boss because remediation was attempted and failed.

  7. As a person and as a supervisor, I believe integrity is extremely important. Credibility is also important and to establish that, you must have integrity. I have been contacted for many references for students wanting to get into a good college or a teacher wanting a promotion and I always give an honest reference or recommendation. People that know me also know if they should ask for a referral because they know I will be honest. For those undeserving of a good referral, they know NOT to give my name. Porn sites, spouse or child abuse, and illegal use of drugs are job killers and even if I don’t use those terms, the requesting new employer would get the message that this is NOT a person I would ever hire again.

  8. My policy is to only confirm or deny whatever the person has provided to the new employer. For example confirm what he told them about; position & title, dates of employment, salary, reason for leaving, eligibility for re-hire etc. It is not up to the former employer to editorialize or expand to the caller. Stick to yes or no and even refuse to answer rather than make remarks that could be held as harmful. if the new employer has not asked the candidate probing questions it is their problem not mine.

  9. I must say that I disagree with Dave. (I am Tom & Tom W) I believe in honesty and I don’t believe in sending “my dirty laundry” to someone else without telling them that it is dirty … or, at the least, telling them that it is NOT clean. To do otherwise is dishonest. I stand by my January 17th statement (as Tom).

    1. When I worked for a large organization before retiring, I always referred inquirers to Human Resources, called Personnel before I retired.

      Many times with problem employees to “protect” they employment record they are given an option to resign.

      For the example given, the question what rules are in writing? If there is a rule not to use the Internet for Personal Use, that would be all I would say. Each employer has their own rules. If the employee was going to work for an Adult Book Store, would this be a problem?

      Sexual Harassment is a serious issues. This has gotten to a point where we have to watch our words. We even have to be careful not to even say “You Look Great in the dress today.” That could be interpreted by some as an inappropriate comment.

      I will agree with Dave and only verify the information provided the applicant has signed a statement stating OK to do so. The new potential employer is checking the accuracy of the information. As above if you gave the employee an option to resign, that is all you should say. If you fired the person, that is all you should say.

      For Tom (W), I did have an employee that just did not work out. That person did go elsewhere and did outstanding work.

      Again, for the Internet Porn and Inappropriate Sexual Statements, this might have been a learning experience and being let go was all it would take to solve these issues.

      Now if this was a background check for security issues or special permits we have to be more open. I had one employee who in writing invited me to the parking lot to “settle” a negative statement I put on his annual performance evaluation. A couple of decades later, I got an inquiry regarding that person getting a gun permit. I do not know the final outcome, but when asked “(D)o you know of any reasons why NNNN should not have a gun permit?” I felt for the safety of others he did not do rational thinking.

  10. Pingback: Quiz: What Would you do? « honestreference

  11. I would make it clear that in no way is the person eligible for rehire. It’s legitimate and warranted and I’d be happy to support it in conversation with the ex- employee or in a court room.

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