“Can I Tell the Truth When An Employer Is Looking For A Reference On A Former Employee?”

Can I Tell the TruthI’ve debated this back and forth with Employers for years. The common thought is, if I tell the truth about a former employee and its negative I’ll get sued. So, the only thing I’ll verify is their dates of service and maybe whether or not I’d rehire them.

This is just wrong. If the former employee had a high absentee rate, was repeatedly written up for poor job performance, didn’t get along with other employees, you are free to tell the prospective employer this. Those examples are things that are true and have already been documented.

What you cannot do, is tell untruths. This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many vindictive business owners or HR managers seem to go out of their way to malign their former employee to jeopardize their future. “We suspect he embezzled money from us…”, “She dated every single guy in the office…”  Before you say anything like this, you’d better make sure you have your facts straight, or you will get sued for either defamation or discriminatory retaliation.

A gray area is opinion statements: “He was just a bad performer”, “her attitude was lousy”. If it isn’t backed up with some facts, steer clear of the statement.

Most employers should help a former employee find the right fit – maybe they didn’t do well at your office, but maybe they’re super well suited for the new position. Given that, maybe their absenteeism isn’t relevant since they’re more apt to show up for a better fitted job.

However, if your former employee was just a documented nightmare I always tell employers that they’re free to share the facts. And just the facts!

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