Am I obliged to give a former employee a glowing reference?

Am I obliged to give a former employee a glowing reference?

Dear Aunty B,

I manage a hairdressing salon and have recently had the unfortunate experience of having to let some of my casual staff go who were not pulling their weight around the salon.

I told the two staff members my reasons for letting them go, so I was quite surprised to see an email from one of them last week asking if I would provide them with a reference for a new job. While I bear no hard feelings against this person, I find it odd that they would assume I could give them a favourable reference.

Do I have an obligation to give my former employees a reference, or is it okay to say no?




Dear Perplexed,

Your dilemma reminds me of the old saying: If you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

As an employer, you are not obliged to give someone a glowing reference just because you used to sign their pay cheques each week. And this is especially true if you made the decision to fire this person because their performance was not up to scratch.

Recommending another employer hire this worker would likely place another salon owner in the very same position as you in a few months, and it is probably not going to help the employee realise they need to improve their skills. It’s also putting your reputation as an employer on the line as you’re the person recommending them.

I suggest you reply to your former employee’s email and let them know you don’t feel comfortable giving out a reference given the circumstances, and wish them well in their job search.

If you do decide to give them a reference, be honest and don’t hide the reason you fired them if a prospective employer asks.

Be Smart,

Aunty B

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