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To be honest when giving a reference?

(87 Posts)
ToffeeSauce Sat 12-Aug-17 13:51:31

A woman in my team is leaving to go a rival business. When she handed in her notice I was pleased, as her performance had been pretty dreadful for a long time - slapdash and chaotic work, refusal to take responsibility for her area, lack of focus etc. She's very sweet though, and a nice person to have around the place. However, the area she covers in my team is too important for this to continue, so I had begun a formal disciplinary process with her, all agreed with by my boss and HR. Obviously not pleasant, hence why I was relieved when she resigned.

I've now been sent a reference request from her new employer, and it's much more detailed than I would have expected. It doesn't ask for me to 'write' anything, which I could have fudged a bit, but instead to give specific ratings for her performance in various areas, and asks the direct question: Would you hire this person again?

The truthful answer is obviously 'No', but I'm not sure what to do. I don't want to sabotage this woman's career (and in a self-interested way I very definitely want her to leave!) but I also don't want to lie. WWYD?

Emmageddon Sat 12-Aug-17 13:55:43

I'd lie. You're not actually committing to employing her again, after all, just saying you would on a form, and everyone deserves a second chance.

MegBusset Sat 12-Aug-17 13:57:21

I would pass to your HR team to provide a generic reference - this was policy the last place I worked, they would not give detailed info for fear of legal comeback.

ToffeeSauce Sat 12-Aug-17 13:58:11

That's interesting MegBusset, I didn't realise you could do that. Good idea!

CorbynsBumFlannel Sat 12-Aug-17 13:58:46

I'd be honest but also try not to put them off hiring her. So 'would you hire her again?' you could answer yes to. You have said she is pleasant to have around and it doesn't ask if you would hire her again in the same role.

wowfudge Sat 12-Aug-17 13:59:40

Just give a factual reference - dates of employment, job title, any sickness absence, etc if relevant and leave it at that. That's what many employers do anyway. If they ring you tell them the company only gives factual references and leave it at that.

daimbar Sat 12-Aug-17 13:59:48

You tick the box saying you would employ her again. It's a bit like giving feedback on eBay - you always give positive feedback unless something has gone seriously wrong. As she hasn't committed gross misconduct then she deserves a proper reference.

Catinthecorner Sat 12-Aug-17 14:01:40

Be honest.

Put it this way. She probably got the job you manager her in because someone lied for her then too. Don't you wish they'd been honest so she could have found a position that spoke to her strengths and you an employee who could manage the job?

When you replace her will you take references? Why bother if it's all lies anyway?

ToffeeSauce Sat 12-Aug-17 14:03:39

But daimbar and Corbyn I really wouldn't hire her again. We are in a full disciplinary process. It's the first time in my career I've ever had to get involved in such a thing! Her work is dreadful - I wouldn't hire her again in any capacity...

ToffeeSauce Sat 12-Aug-17 14:05:00

Yes Cat that's sort of my take on it, but every time I am about to fill out the form I just can't quite do it.

swingofthings Sat 12-Aug-17 14:07:20

Been exactly in the same position and faced with the same dilemma. I decided to lie and said yes but then was able to add a comment and said that I would but for another role.

She got the job and as far as I know, was still employed with them at least 12 months down the line, so hopefully it worked better for her and her new manager.

alfagirl73 Sat 12-Aug-17 14:07:25

Having studied employment law in detail, I would agree with MegBusset. The general advice regarding references is that they should be generic factual references from an HR department which simply confirms dates of employment, absences, etc... that sort of thing.

If you say more then you run the risk of legal action - either from the new employer for not telling them about her performance, or, from the employee, if you wreck her chances of future employment by saying she's awful. You say you have started disciplinary action against her but if the investigation was incomplete and/or no actual formal decision has been taken, then the employee could argue that any comments about her performance were subjective, unproven, unreasonable, even defamatory. She could take further legal action and you'd end up buried in legal paperwork proving that this employee was as bad as you say when you could simply leave her to move onto new pastures and leave it up to her whether to prove herself in her new role or mess it up for herself.

Employer/employee references are a legal minefield and for that reason most employers these days will and should give a simple generic factual reference which does not comment on the employee's performance. That way the employee cannot accuse you of anything and the future employer cannot come after you for saying she was a great employee if she wasn't.

Moanyoldcow Sat 12-Aug-17 14:08:53

I think a basic confirmation of dates is all that's required via HR. In my experience if that's all you get you know they're 'below par' without anyone having to say so.

I've worked for several large companies where this was the official policy but my line manager has been happy to give a detailed reference separately because my performance has been good.

ToffeeSauce Sat 12-Aug-17 14:09:22

Thanks alfa that's really helpful.

BritInUS1 Sat 12-Aug-17 14:09:56

In these cases I always just provide a reference that says

X worked here from X date to x date. Her role was XXXXX and her annual salary was £X,XXX

If I get contacted and asked to elaborate I just say that I am unable to do so and we only provide basic references

Bardo Sat 12-Aug-17 14:10:31

Dont. Rein in your "honesty"

One woman's honesty has blighted my life. It is just her opinion. Her erroneous opinion and yet it is perceived as Truth.

Pumpkinnose Sat 12-Aug-17 14:11:14

Lawyer here. Send request to HR - you should do that with all requests to the company (i.e. not a personal reference) or you could get your employer and potentially yourself in hot water.

notevernotnevernotnohow Sat 12-Aug-17 14:13:01

No, why would you say you would hire her again when you absolutely wouldn't?

HipsterHunter Sat 12-Aug-17 14:16:26

All you do is send the confirmation that X worked here in x role from dates x to x.

SauvignonBlanche Sat 12-Aug-17 14:16:49

I would contact HR for advice, every area has different policies on such matters.

I work in a profession where you have to write full and honest references, I was once in the same situation and agonised over the reference, being truthful but emphasising her positive qualities.

I got HR to check it before I sent it and they said it was a work of art.

I was pissed off when I found it was only for Bank work and she wasn't leaving.

I once wrote a truthful and accurate reference for an HCA who had already left and she had her job offer withdrawn, she phoned up screaming at me down the phone telling me that you're 'not allowed' to give bad references. I explained that I wasn't allowed to give dishonest ones, I'd be able to provide evidence for everything I'd written.

RidingMyBike Sat 12-Aug-17 14:18:39

Talk to HR! You could end up in all sorts of mess by being 'honest' on the form- either from new employer or the employee herself - she has the right to see what's written about her in a reference.

Many employers simply provide a basic factual reference these days to avoid these problems. Let HR deal with it.

You have my sympathies - I had to take an employee through disciplinary and it was a nightmare. Hated doing it but no other way forward as she wasn't doing the job she was meant to be doing. She ended up retiring so at least I was spared the reference issue!

VimFuego101 Sat 12-Aug-17 14:18:57

You don't have to fill out the form. Just send a written reference saying 'it is our policy to only supply confirmation of dates worked - x worked here from a date to b date as a [job title]'.

She must have known that listing you as a reference wasn't the smartest thing to do given the disciplinary procedure!

ToffeeSauce Sat 12-Aug-17 14:21:46

That's what I thought vim!

Interesting to hear how different it is in different industries. I work for a large corporate so I'd guess they err well on the side of caution.

SaltySeaBird Sat 12-Aug-17 14:22:38

Company policy that HR offer a standard reference with dates of employment only and state that this is the policy on the actual reference. Managers aren't allowed to expand on it with a private letter.

I think this is becoming far more common.

Moanyoldcow I certainly hope that doesn't indicate somebody is sub par. I have some very good previous staff members and that is all they would get. It's all I'll get when I leave!

tiggytape Sat 12-Aug-17 14:25:47

The reference request is just that - a request. They cannot force you to respond in the format they prefer. And in fact, many companies have a policy of refusing to do so and wouldn't answer such a detailed series of questions for any ex-employee.

It potentially leaves you wide open to future problems
Either you tell the truth and the ex employee doesn't get the job and decides it's sabotage
Or you lie and the new employer has the same problems with her, digs deeper and maybe discovers the disciplinary proceedings that you effectively covered up.

As others have said a bland reference with just factual details on is your best bet.

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