Providing references for former employees

Are there dangers to giving a negative reference?
By Brian Johnston
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 01/22/2013

Question: If a prospective employer of a former employee calls for a reference and we have nothing good to say about the former employee, what is the advisable response? Is it safe to be honest and say unflattering things that could hurt the former employee’s chance at a new job?

Answer: Honesty is often said to be the best policy. However, providing an honest but unflattering reference can negatively impact the former employee’s chances of finding a new job (and potentially increase your liability to the employee). Further, an honest and unflattering reference could result in risk of lawsuit by the former employee. Failing to tell the truth, on the other hand, can get you into trouble with the prospective employer.

With prospective employers, you have to be concerned about their reliance placed on your reference. Providing a reference that offers “just the basics” (position, length of employment, and salary) is a good option. A skilled reference-checking employer will normally be able to ascertain whether you would rehire the employee, so your non-answers to certain key questions may say a lot without any risk of liability.