Skip to main content

To the frustration of job seekers and hiring managers alike, an increasing number of employers are instituting a blanket "no reference" policy.

The trend, which began in the United States, has gradually trickled north of the border and typically covers both verbal and written references.

Though it has long been tradition for well-regarded employees to ask for and receive a positive reference to help ease their transition to the next position, some employers are declining to provide anything more than a bare-bones "confirmation of employment," outlining person's job title and length employment.

Story continues below advertisement

For job seekers, especially long-serving employees and those let go without cause who expected to receive a positive review of their tenure, it can be one more hurdle to overcome in their job search. For hiring managers, the policy can make it more difficult to determine whether the contenders for a job are really a good fit.

Why the change in policy? Quite simply, a fear of lawsuits.

A few years ago in the United States, an anesthesiologist was dismissed after he was caught using narcotics at work. Upon his departure, the company gave him a positive reference, but later, at his next job, he came to work impaired and almost killed a patient. The patient's family, who sued the new employer, was awarded $8-million (U.S.). That company then turned around and sued the anesthesiologist's former company, which provided the reference, and won.

This example may sound extreme, but it can happen.

The company also leaves itself open to a lawsuit if it provides a negative reference about an employee, especially if that employee was let go without cause. Not only could the poor reference prevent the employee from successfully landing employment, the company could be sued for wrongful dismissal if it were to tell others that the employee was dismissed for other reasons.

In order to avoid such predicaments, companies are simply instituting a "no reference" policy.

While this presents a challenge for job seekers who wish to demonstrate their value to a potential employer, it is by no means impossible to overcome. The solution lies in understanding the gap between a "corporate" reference and a "personal" one.

Story continues below advertisement

A corporate reference is just that – a reference on behalf of the company. Whatever is said is understood to be the view of the company as a whole. In other words, the company is accountable for whatever is said about a person.

A personal reference, on the other hand, is a reference by an individual who assumes all accountability for what he or she says. This reference can be from a co-worker or supervisor, so long as they understand that their opinions are personal and do not reflect the views of the company as a whole.

Even if a company has a "no reference" policy, that does not necessarily prevent an employee's former co-workers from providing personal references. There's nothing to stop an employee from seeking a reference from a former manager who has since left the company, either.

Such references, however, must be clearly characterized as personal, and not reflecting the opinion of the company.

The references that most employers look for are verbal. Employees should be sure to get permission from their references before they give their contact information to a potential employer. It may also be advisable to ask the reference for their non-work contact information, just to be clear that the person is providing a personal reference.

As with all references, it is wise for the job seeker to call first to give the person information about the role and provide them with speaking tips based on what the potential employer will want to know.

Story continues below advertisement

Employees, especially when terminated from their role, should negotiate for a written reference as part of their separation agreement. It nails down the "departure message" – what the company can say if anyone inquires about the employee. The company and the terminated employee should agree upon the content of this letter.

Employees can also ask for an employment confirmation letter, which simply states the employee's title, and length of employment. But frankly, these letters are of little value to the employee in terms of a reference since they do not reveal anything about the employee's competency or performance.

Eileen Dooley is a certified career coach and general manager of Calgary-based career transition and outplacement firm McRae Inc.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter