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I've been asked to give a reference to a poorly performing staff member? What on earth do I write?

(51 Posts)
KitKat1985 Fri 20-Nov-15 09:06:03

So, I'm a staff nurse and last night one of my nursing assistants asked me if I could give them a job reference. The problem is she's not good. At all. She regularly turns up late, she always checking her phone, and another colleague recently complained that she was smoking in the staff room (obviously not allowed). I regularly get people complaining to me that she's lazy and doesn't pull her weight. I tried to side-step the reference issue by saying maybe it would be better if she asked a manager but she said she wants me to do it as I've worked with her for longer (this is only sort of true, as I worked with her briefly about 4 years ago, and then we worked in difference places for about 3 years until she started working where I now work a few months ago). What the hell am I going to write on this reference when I get asked? I know I'm not supposed to write anything negative but I'm going to struggle to write a glowing one. Anyone been in this position before and have any tips?

ruddynorah Fri 20-Nov-15 09:08:12

Do you not have a framework to follow? Where I am we just give dates of employment.

99percentchocolate Fri 20-Nov-15 09:09:39

Just write the bare minimum - date she was employed from, sick days. Has she been pulled up on her performance before?
I would maybe say that you mentioned it to someone in passing and it turns out that you aren't allowed? If she has any sense she'll leave it at that.

Pico2 Fri 20-Nov-15 09:12:40

I'd refer to HR. Where I work individuals are not allowed to give references, just HR. Check if that's the case where you are first.

FreckledLeopard Fri 20-Nov-15 09:14:08

Don't for goodness sake write anything negative as you open yourself up to being sued.

Ask for guidance from HR, or refer her to HR and say that you don't give references, even personal ones.

atticusclaw2 Fri 20-Nov-15 09:14:11

Surely you're to allowed to just write references. You could be sued if you write anything inaccurate so just pass it on to HR.

atticusclaw2 Fri 20-Nov-15 09:15:45

Its not true by the way that you can be sued for writing negative things. That's a complete myth (I'm an employment lawyer)

What you can be sued for is writing something which is not accurate. In theory you could be sued by the employee and also by their new employer (who will blame you for the fact that they recruited the employee thinking they were good).

Factual references only (approved by HR).

wickedwaterwitch Fri 20-Nov-15 09:18:20

Refer her to HR and tell her you're not comfortable with it as you're not her boss

FishWithABicycle Fri 20-Nov-15 09:18:52

Don't write anything negative that you don't have documented proof for. Worst case scenario: her job offer is withdrawn due to a poor reference, she can find out what you wrote under the data protection act and if she considers anything untrue could sue for list earnings. But don't lie and say falsely positive things either or you with jeopardise the career of the next (hard working and reliable) employee of yours who gets a job opportunity in the same place and they don't believe your glowing reference because the last person you said nice things about turned out to be awful.

Safest course is to just stick to employment dates and job title. If you have a register of number of times she was late you can state "our records indicate she was late starting work for X% of shifts" but if you only have your memories and no proof I wouldn't mention it.

InternationalHouseofToast Fri 20-Nov-15 09:20:57

Presuming that you're only a colleague, and not directly supervising her work, I'd decline. If she won't take no for an answer, I'd wait for the reference request to arrive then send in a reply saying that you have worked with her from x date to x date in this capacity, and again from x date to x date in this capacity but that you are not able to provide a reference as to her capability to undertake this [new] role.

RhodaBull Fri 20-Nov-15 09:21:35

This happened at my place of work. Dreadful employee asked for a reference. Manager wrote, "Mary worked at X from x month year to y month year." That was it. Hopefully prospective employer could read between the (sparse) lines!

ihatevirginmobile Fri 20-Nov-15 09:31:29

Is it a personal reference she wants - so rather than one from an employer?
So I have known x for so long and they have been ... etc
Rather than a X worked for this place from such a date to such a date?
If so it is nothing to do with HR as long as you don't use 'company' letter paper... sadly that would be more difficult for you to get out of and more difficult to write.
You can't really write a bad reference (so unless they were caught red handed stealing, the police were contacted and it went through a disciplinary you can't say they are dishonest)
...and you can't lie...
so what you don't say is as important as what you do... so most references will say I have found them to be punctual, reliable, hard-working, honest, team player etc. So if eg punctual isn't mentioned it is likely that they aren't...and others have said the worst is just a X worked here from such a date to such a date. A future employer can then contact the person giving the reference and ask questions - so punctuality is very important in this role, it isn't mentioned in the reference -did you find they were punctual? And you can say honestly no...not in my experience.
I would push them to HR but if it is a personal one can you find anything positive to say about them at all? If you can say that and not mention hard working, dedicated etc etc ...

thatstoast Fri 20-Nov-15 09:32:02

I was made redundant, as were about 400 people in my bank. We all got references saying "x worked here from y date to z date". I hope if future employer 'read between the lines' they'd realise we all used to work for an organisation that doesn't give a shit about their employees. I worked hard for 7 years and I've got the same reference as the people who fixed the libor rate.

I think refusing a reference is the only way to go.

GruntledOne Fri 20-Nov-15 09:44:04

I think you'll almost certainly find that you're not allowed to write references - check with HR.

TondelayaDellaVentamiglia Fri 20-Nov-15 09:46:42

Just say no!

She'll just move onto the next person.

exWifebeginsat40 Fri 20-Nov-15 09:47:12

smoking in the staff room of an NHS hospital? in the UK in 2015?

as for the reference. no no no. refer them to HR.

cowbag1 Fri 20-Nov-15 09:53:38

Is she applying for another NHS position? If so, you'll get a reference request form through that has set questions and a scale (i.e. excellent to poor) so it's fine to answer honestly where neccessary even if it's negative. There's a space for comments so that you can justify your answer but you can leave it blank.

The only other thing you should do if your reference is not all positive is tell the employee as if they are refused the job based on your reference they will be told (albeit not the full content, that would be down to you). I have had to have a very awkward conversation of that nature with another member if staff, and if you can bear it, I think it's fairer to hear it from you before the recruiting manager!

RB68 Fri 20-Nov-15 09:53:57

I would just say that you are not able to do a personal one as you are a long time work colleague not personal friend and that HR prefer that references are just the work based one rather than personal. If she pushes just say it puts you in a difficult position with management and you don't want to rock that boat at the moment (she doesn't need to know what that means)

I have only used previous colleagues or managers as a personal reference once they have left that organisation and have been lucky that all have agreed and also sent me copies so I have a heads up of whats in them.

cowbag1 Fri 20-Nov-15 10:00:24

Just thought I would add, it's quite normal in the NHS for other employees to receive a reference request because you need references that cover a set period and that can be difficult if you've had managers come and go.

It's not ideal though and she will need at least one other reference from someone that has managed her in the past so that they can answer questions re: her sickness (as I'm guessing you aren't privy to her full absence record).

I would ask HR for guidance before doing anything. They may not want a reference from you once you've explained the capacity in which you know her.

freshoutofluck Fri 20-Nov-15 10:18:41

I would say you have now checked with HR, and can't do it because it would be inappropriate for you to comment on anything to do with length of service, sickness absence etc as all that should be confidential between employee and line manager and HR.

If you were feeling kind, you could suggest that she ask an external long-term friend to provide a personal reference, to accompany a factual reference from either HR or her actual line manager.

As a recruiter, I look very hmm about references that are all obviously from colleagues instead of line managers - I always query it further with the candidate and get them to give me something from HR too. Sometimes there are perfectly understandable reasons (managers leaving, companies being taken over etc) but it always makes me pause.

JustWantToBeDorisAgain Fri 20-Nov-15 10:20:40

I would wonder that if she's only worked at your place for 3 months, she needs a reference from someone who has worked with her for longer than 3 months ( quite often a time you must have known this person fir us on the reference)

That's why she's pushing for you.

Speak to HR if it's NHS they probably have a policy on itgrin

Arfarfanarf Fri 20-Nov-15 10:22:11

Does your workplace have a policy re who can and who cannot give references? Many do. Are you authorised to give references on behalf of your workplace? speak for your workplace? have your workplace accountable for what you say?

KitKat1985 Fri 20-Nov-15 13:25:26

Oh blimey, lots of replies. I was thinking I wouldn't get any replies for ages!

Yes she has said she wants a reference from me because it has to be someone professional who has known her for at least 3 years, and she hasn't known our manager / charge nurse for that long. She's applying for an agency so the reference will be going to them, so the usual NHS recruitment rules obviously don't reply.

I agree the best thing to do is to state how long I've known her, throw in a couple of positives, (I will say she is pretty good at agreeing to work extra hours albeit without doing much work at short notice for example) so I guess I can honestly put that in. I might just avoid mentioning 'sticky issues' like punctuality and hope new employer works it out for themselves!

SauvignonBlanche Fri 20-Nov-15 13:38:16

I know I'm not supposed to write anything negative
What on earth makes you think that? hmm

I had a very lazy and uncaring apprentice HCA scream something similar adown the phone to me when her job offer working with highly vulnerable service users in a nursing home was withdrawn due to my honest reference.

As a registered nurse you have a responsibility to write an honest reference, as you have not been their line manager you will have little to go on. Please don't think it has to be 'glowing' and ask HR for advice.

Choughed Fri 20-Nov-15 13:44:03

Just don't do it. You are not her employer. You can't represent her employer without their agreement.

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