References are tricky business. Conventional wisdom says it’s best to refuse to offer any opinion when a prospective employer asks for a reference on an applicant you know may be a poor choice. But sometimes, you may feel compelled to give your counterpart at the hiring organization an honest “heads up.” Before you do, consider that the applicant may sue you if he doesn’t get the job.
You need to weigh that risk against your moral obligation to tell the truth. If in doubt, consult your attorney, who may be able to find a way to provide the information in a manner that minimizes potential liability.
Recent case: Warren Roach was fired from his job as a school bus driver after a parent complained that Roach had sent an obscenity-laden letter to a middle-school girl who rode his bus. Apparently, he also made a habit of handing out CDs of illegally copied music that included suggestive language and lyrics. He had been warned that staff was not allowed to give gifts to students.
After he was fired, Roach filed a race discrimination lawsuit over his dismissal and applied for a bus driving job with a tour company. The potential employer asked the school district for a reference and learned about the lawsuit. The school district also said that if the tour company hired the driver, he should not be assigned to any school trips.
Roach added a claim of negative references to his lawsuit. The court dismissed the claim, pointing out that the school district didn’t provide any false information. (Roach v. Rockingham County Board of Education, No. 1:05-CV-569, MD NC, 2007)