Giving bad references is OK if they’re true

Former employee seeks almost $800,000 in defamation and punitive damages for employer’s bad reference – but only gets $17,000 for reasonable notice of dismissal
By Jeffrey R. Smith
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 06/21/2017

You’ve probably heard of the saying, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” Well, that’s not always the case – at least for employers providing references for former employees. Many employers are afraid to provide anything more than basic facts about a former worker’s job, especially if they don’t have anything positive to say. But a recent Ontario decision shows employers shouldn’t be afraid to be upfront about employee performance issues in reference checks – as long as it’s the truth.

In Ontario employer was entitled to give a bad reference about a former employee if it believed the information it gave was true, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled.

Stokes Economic Consulting (SEC) is an economic forecasting company in Milton, Ont., founded by Ernest Stokes in 1995. The company hired Adam Papp in March 2011 to be a staff economist. Papp successfully completed a six-month probationary period and became a permanent employee, joining four other staff economists with the company. They all shared certain responsibilities, but Papp was primarily responsible for preparing the Ontario economic forecast.