The fear of a defamation lawsuit based on a negative reference is over-rated. Telling the truth and expressing an opinion in good faith are generally fair game, even if they don't paint a flattering picture of a former employee. Still, many employers would rather avoid giving references at all (except maybe to verify a former employee's dates of employment, title, and salary) than give a negative one. While this practice is not very helpful to the prospective employer, at times, it can even be downright harmful.
Cautionary case: A medical center received a detailed questionnaire from a health care facility seeking a reference for a physician it had formerly employed. Instead of answering questions about the doctor's judgment, his ability to perform, any signs of behavior or personality problems, or disciplinary actions taken against him, the center drafted a short letter verifying
the doctor's job title and dat...(register to read more)