Employment Law: Asking for a Reference

Employment Law: Asking for a Reference


By Howard Levitt and J. Michael Mulroy


Lang Michener LLP
Monster Employment Law Experts

A good reference is an invaluable tool in securing a new position. You should request a reference from your current employer, whether you have resigned or been terminated.
A full reference from your immediate supervisor outlines your service with the company, the positions held, a description of your duties and some positive comment regarding your skills and abilities. The letter concludes customarily with best wishes or even a recommendation that you would be an ideal employee.

A written reference provides assurance that the referee will say positive things about you. Rarely does someone write a complimentary letter only to give a totally negative oral reference. Furthermore, sometimes a written reference is sufficient and an oral interview is dispensed with.

A conversation between your prospective employer and your referees is the second stage of a reference check. The written letter establishes the four corners of any conversation with the referee. But, your referee is free to provide oral comments or elaborate on statements made in the letter of reference in response to questions asked by the interviewer.

The referee is free to say anything he or she honestly believes about you. The law protects your referee from any lawsuits by you for defamation, as long as the person giving the reference is not motivated by malice. In other words, if the person giving the reference is expressing a negative opinion for some reason unrelated to a truly held viewpoint, you may have some legal recourse, if you loose the job opportunity because of it. However, it is important to know that malice is not easily established and it does not prevent a referee from making some negative comments. A frank discussion about you is permitted.

Since there is no legal obligation to provide a reference, your request for a reference may be denied. If your request is refused, ask why.

Maybe, the company has a policy prohibiting full references. If so, ask for a letter confirming employment. Most employers agree to provide one. If the letter confirming your employment explains the company has as a policy prohibiting references, a negative inference cannot be drawn from your inability to produce one. Ask for this explanation to be included in the letter confirming your employment. If a letter of reference is not forthcoming because your supervisor does not have good things to say about you, then at least you know not to provide his or her name to a prospective employer.

A letter confirming employment is a useful when you cannot expect a good reference from your supervisor. Attaching the confirmation letter to your resume may eliminate a confirmation of employment check with your recent employer. The focus can then be on the list of referees you do provide and who you have cleared in advance as willing to provide a favourable reference.

Do not forget to tell your references that they may be receiving a call from your prospective employer. This common courtesy will give the referee time to prepare for the call. They will make a good impression, which reflects well on you.

For more information or to arrange a telephone consultation or a visit to our offices in Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver, please visit http://www.canadaemploymentlaw.com/.