Apr 18, 2012

How do you deal with a request for a reference about a mediocre former employee?

I received a request from a local company for a reference. The thing is the former employee who I'll call David was not a terrible employee, he wasn't very good either. He did the job with minimal competence, and called in sick a fair amount, especially on Fridays and Mondays. But David never had any really major screw ups, and didn't exceed the number of sick days allowed. More or less, he was like a character in the movie Office Space; he did the bare minimum required to keep his job. So how do I handle his reference? If I were to be absolutely honest, I would say that I wouldn't hire him again, but on the upside he probably didn't steal many office supplies. I won't actually do that, but I don't want to misrepresent him as a stellar employee either. What's the best way to deal with the situation?

Remember that old saying "if you can't say anything nice..." In this situation you are probably best just noting that he or she worked there, and leaving it at that. As the other answer noted, you can simply say that it's company policy not to say more than that. This way you protect yourself and avoid any possible headaches from disclosing further information.
I think the safest way to deal with it is to simply confirm that he worked there, his position, and the period of his employment. You can include in your letter that company policy prohibits you from commenting on other aspects of the personnel files of current or former employees. This is probably the safest route for you, and avoids legal liability traps from providing either positive or negative references. It is a shame that you can't just write what you did for your question, but that's the nature of the litigious world we live in these days.
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