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Giving a job reference for a former employee who left on good terms is rarely a problem for employers.
But what about giving a bad reference for a former employee who was fired or otherwise left your employment on bad or unpleasant terms? Employers may be torn between warning a future employer about the person they are considering bringing on board and the potential consequences of giving a negative reference.
But what are those consequences? Can a bad reference result in an employer getting sued?
Fear of Defamation Lawsuits
What many employers fear when it comes to giving a bad reference for a former employee is a lawsuit for defamation. Defamation generally refers to statements which are harmful to a person's reputation. Written defamation is known as libel, while spoken defamation is known as slander.
While defamation lawsuits frequently involve untrue statements, they may also involve statements that a person may believe to be true but is unable to actually verify. Not only could telling a potential employer a harmful falsehood about a former employee lead to a defamation lawsuit; the same is possible when doling out suspicions which cannot be factually verified.
Tips for Giving References
The most important thing to remember when giving a reference is to stick to the facts. Truth is a defense to defamation. So even in the event of a lawsuit, as long as your statements can be factually verified, you will likely not be liable for defamation.
But a better idea may be to do your best to avoid a lawsuit entirely. Here are a few tips you may want to consider to help avoid potential legal trouble:
To learn more about the laws regarding employee termination, the hiring process, and managing employees, check out FindLaw's section on Employment Law and Human Resources.
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Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.