Social Question

christine215's avatar

What do you say when someone calls you for a reference?

Asked by christine215 (3158 points ) May 13th, 2011

A former employee is now a friend of mine. She left the company and moved on to a few other jobs. She has the opportunity for another new position and has asked if she can use me as a professional reference. Flustered and caught off guard, I said yes.
The thing is, by the time she left here, she wasn’t a great employee. She was late all the time, took excessive time off and goofed off a ton during the work day. I get that she may have ‘checked out’ mentally while looking for her next job, but as her boss at the time, the change didn’t go unnoticed.

I’ve risen in ‘ranks’ here at the company where I remained. While the job she’s looking to get into is not in the same industry as the one I am currently employed, I have learned that this can be a very small world, both personally and professionally and am concerned.

I have no idea what her current work ethic is.. I can only assume it has improved from my personal experience with her, as she has done pretty well for herself, getting promotions, raises and better jobs along the way. If this new company calls me as her professional reference, what do I tell them?

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20 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

You tell them about your experience with her, which occurred several years ago. You tell them that for the most part she worked well, but she slacked off when she was leaving.

Although I gather that at some firms, they are so afraid of litigation, that the only thing they will do is confirm that the person worked there.

The thing to do is to avoid making judgments. So don’t say she slacked off. Instead, say that she took a lot of time off in the last few months you knew her. She also produced little compared to her earlier production.

But I would say the least I can. Only answer their questions, and demur if you don’t want to. Tell them it is your company’s policy.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Tell the truth.

marinelife's avatar

I would contact her and tell her that you would rather not be a reference.

I would not say bad things about her, because if it got back to her, she could sue you.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

If your company has a human resources department, consult with them on what to say. The company I worked for only allowed us to confirm start and ending dates of work and if the person was eligible for rehire. If there is no HR dept., check on the laws in your area and with the owner/manager of the company before you give any references.

As a side note, there are ways that answers can be worded that, on paper, can be truthful, but by the tone of the voice, can relay a message loud and clear.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I believe legally there are only a few questions the employer can ask you but maybe that’s only if they call you and you are the actual former employer HR rep and not a personal reference. Like @wundayatta, I’d say the least I can and like @marinelife, I’d not say anything negative. By tone of voice and pauses then a prospective employer can get the gist of what you’re trying not to say.

Kardamom's avatar

Yes, you definitely need to talk to your HR department before you say anything at all, or else you and your company can be held liable for any information that you give out.

People should usually only use references from their friends (who are not and never were their employers) if they just want the person to say something positive about them.

I believe that legally, a company is only allowed to say whether or not the person worked at the company (with the dates) and whether or not they would consider re-hiring that person, but no reasons can be given. That’s where the liability part comes in.

To save face, you can talk to your friend and let them know that only HR is allowed to handle references, that’s how it worked at my company. Our company policy stated that we had to refer all “reference” questions to HR and we were not allowed to answer them ourselves.

gm_pansa1's avatar

Honesty is the best policy.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@Kardamom: I lurve that response! How simple it would be to say your current employer, the person’s old one has a policy in place that only HR gives reference info.

Kardamom's avatar

@gm_pansa1 In most situations, honesty is the best policy, but when it comes to giving personal references, especially when you work at, or were the boss of a person, there are legal aspects that you have to adhere to. Anything other than giving the dates the person worked and saying whether you would re-hire them , is opening up the OP or her company to all sorts of legal problems and possibly a lawsuit.

I only found that out, when my company fired a group of people (who had been subjected to safety violations) and then those people needed references for new jobs. Some of the fired people were good friends of mine and I wanted to give them a good recommendation, but I was told very sternly by our HR department that I was not allowed, by company policy, to give any recommendations good or bad and that I had to direct all reference calls to HR or I would be immediately terminated. Yikes!

I don’t want that to happen to any of you guys.

Jaxk's avatar

Frankly, you’ve put yourself in a bind. Everyone asks for references but few put much stock in them. A negative reference will hurt, however. If you choose to be honest, be prepared to lose a friend. You may want to walk a middle ground by letting the new employer know, your not allowed to give professional references by your HR department but personally you find them to be knowledgeable and bright.

The real problem stems from the fact that if you give a good reference to some but decline to answer for others, the lack of a good response can be used in court as a negative response. It gets complicated.

filmfann's avatar

I work for AT&T, which has a policy NOT to give references.
Managers are only allowed to acknowledge that the former-employee did once work there.

HungryGuy's avatar

“Ich wil den Klavierstein!”

Coloma's avatar

Right, honesty is the best policy.
This means be honest, but don’t pad the bad nor minimize the good.

I think it would take a near saint to not slack off a bit when a job is coming to an end, same goes in most relationships. I wouldn’t hold this against her too much, we are, after all, only human.

Obviously the ‘proof’ is in her current work situation where she HAS gotten promotions and managed well. Clearly she is/has done something right inspite of her previous conduct towards ‘the end’ of your experience with her.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Answer the questions they ask, and don’t volunteer more information. Verify employment dates, roll, and salary if they ask, as well as an outline of what type of work they did. It sounds like the job was not a perfect fit for her, and that affected performance. But since you can’t comment on her current work habits, past work habits aren’t exactly relevant.

blueiiznh's avatar

In that case I would simply say, it is against company policy to give out any information.

dank1973's avatar

If you are a business reference then the questions should only revolve around the specifics pertaining to her work: was she ontime, did she work hard, did she accomplish what was expected of her.. etc. If they start asking about her personality, etc., that is a personal reference and you shouldn’t answer them. I would be honest about her work demeanor.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@dank1973 Answering questions about being on time, working hard and accomplishments can be subjective. In the US, even answering these types of questions could land a company in a lawsuit. It’s rare, but it does happen. While in most lawsuits the burden of proof falls on the prosecution’s shoulders, in EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) cases, it falls on the defender’s.

Let’s say that the friend isn’t hired for the job. The friend files a lawsuit against the company that hired someone else. That company would have to prove that the candidate they chose was more qualified. The company would have to show documentation or state why the other candidate (the friend) was not hired.

If this proof includes a reference check feedback, then the person who answered the questions during the reference check also gets dragged into it. They would have to provide proof that the person wasn’t on time, didn’t work hard, and/or didn’t accomplish what was expected.

@christine215 It’s been three months. Did you ever receive a call for a reference? Did the friend get the job?

christine215's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer , thankfully no. I never got the call, she wound up getting a different/better job with that company. I’m happy for her…and glad for myself that I wasn’t put in an awkward position

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Thank you for the update. You are off the hook…for now.

dank1973's avatar

As a personal reference; anything about their personality. As a professional reference only things pertaining to their work history: were they on time, did they work hard, etc.

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