How to Give a Negative Employee Reference

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So, there you were, sitting at your desk, getting along the day’s task, enjoying a steaming cup of joe thinking that you were done with Grumpy Griswold when he turned in his letter of resignation but, then BOOM; you receive an email that made your blood run cold: Reference for Grumpy Griswold. You poor innocent fool; you didn’t really think that you wouldn’t hear from him again, did you?

Well, this is how to give a negative employee reference.

1. Don’t Be Nasty

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If you intend on giving an employee a negative reference don’t blind side them; sure, you might want to since the whole excrement in the top drawer fiasco, but they went to jail for six months for it, so they did their time. If you agreed to give a bad employee a reference only to realize that you should’ve declined, there is a way out of it but it’s not going to be easy or pleasant. Call up the offending (and offensive) employee and let them know that on second thought you would like to decline giving them a reference, or that you wouldn’t be able to give them a positive reference and you wouldn’t want to lie. They will readily take you off their reference list, especially if they know it will hurt their job prospects.  

2. Reject it

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Just flat out reject them.

Although it won’t be a comfortable conversation, it will be much more comfortable than telling a hiring manager contacting you that Grumpy Griswold has the work ethic and mental capacity of a drunken sloth. Actually, both those scenarios are equally awkward but still consider it somewhat of a band-aid effect, rip it off quickly, otherwise it will be a long drawn out painful experience which will leave a bald spot on your knee for a couple of weeks- okay maybe not the bald spot on your knee but you get the point.

3. Use Time as an Advantage


If your bad ex-employee hasn’t worked for you for a couple of years then you can just use the passage of time as an excuse- not in a Shakespearean way. No, wait; actually, maybe a little bit in a Shakespearean way, when a employer contacts you as a reference, let them know that an extend period of time has passed since Grumpy Griswold worked for you and not knowing the level of Mr. Grumpy’s personal growth you wouldn’t be comfortable talking about them as an employee. It’s neutral but at the same time it also indicates that they might’ve not been model employees in the past and therefore, expected them to grow.

4. Be Sneaky

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If again you want to be sly about your reference you can tell the employer/recruiter that you can only confirm the employee’s date of employment and the position they held. If the recruiter is equally as sneaky as you and asks if this was an overall policy or just applied to this specific individual, then you can tell them it was just for this individual. Although you didn’t say anything negative, you indicated that you wouldn’t want to talk about this individual. If you really want to aggravate the hiring manager which will inevitably reflect negatively on ole Griswold, deny saying anything apart from what that person did and how long they were with the company.

Do you have any other tips on how to give a negative employee reference? Let us know in the comments section below.

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