There will be times that you will receive requests asking for references of former employees. If the referenced employee was a good employee and left on good terms, this will not be a difficult situation for you. However, if the employee was terminated or left on bad terms, then what you will say could be tempered by the events of his leaving. Either way, you need to be careful regarding what you relay when providing a reference for a former employee.

Several basic guidelines will keep you and your company out of hot water when providing employee references. You need to be honest, but you also need to be careful. Brief answers are the best approach and some company policies will only allow that you give their job title, dates of employment and final salary when giving references. This is the safest route to take, even if the employee was a good employee.

Reference Format

When giving a written or verbal reference, give the bare facts, as well as true assessment, of the employee’s performance. Provide a brief overview of his performance in the position that he held while under your employ. This can include date of employment, his enthusiasm and ability to do the job, his honesty and integrity, and the reason that he has left employment with your company.

Just the Facts

Give only accurate and easily documented information about the former employee. Do not go into the bad qualities of the employee and be careful not to be drawn into a lengthy conversation. The requester will often try to find out more information than you need to give, which can cause you problems if you fall into this trap.

Designated Personnel

Have one person that you trust handle these types of inquiries and make sure that the reference checkers are directed to them. Policy regarding references should be clear so that a subordinate does not get on the phone and tell the prospective employer all of the foibles of a terminated employee or give a bad reference because they had a bad working relationship.

Again, reference checkers can be sneaky and try to find an employee at your company who will tell all. This could ultimately get you in a bad situation legally if the former employee fails to get the job and the bad referral can be pinned on your company.


Implement a policy that all references are to be recorded and saved. This will give you supporting documentation in the event that the former employee claims that you sabotaged his being hired by the a new employer. Be consistent in your practice of providing references.

Be Honest

Honesty is always the best policy. You can provide negative information on a former employee as long as the information is not malicious and is fact-based. It is best to give the good with the bad, though, when the reference is for an employee who was above par, or for one who was terminated or left on bad terms.

A termination of an employee should have been documented, thereby providing you substantiating information regarding the termination. This information can afford you protection. It is also best to tell the checker that you do not wish for the information to be shared with the employee, thus providing you a level of confidentiality.


The best practice for providing references for former employees is consistency. By carrying out this function the same way each time, your company can be protected from those who may use negative information as legal recourse against you.