Should You Be a Reference Even if Your Employer Forbids It?

Here’s the thing: Whether you’re a boss or a colleague, from time to time your colleagues may indicate your name and contact information as a reference when they seek a new job.

Normally it would be a no brainer, right? Give a professional recommendation when asked.

Well, it’s not that easy when employers have policies that basically say you can’t be a reference. According to a piece in today’s New York Post, they’re essentially designed to help avoid litigation in case the former employee sues. (That is mainly because everyone doesn’t always give glowing, positive references.)

In the piece, Gregory Giangrande, chief HR officer at Time, Inc., explains, “And courts generally rule in favor of employers in the rare instance that a negative reference is challenged in court — unless the former employee can demonstrate the feedback was untrue, personal or in some way intended to cause harm.”

When employers forbid their employees from saying something that could come back to harm them, unfortunately a company’s no reference policy pretty much prevents people from saying anything at all.

So, what can you do if your employer has such a policy and you want to help out a former colleague? All we can say is one recommendation is to definitely adhere to it.

As for the argument that a company may not even know if you give a reference, let alone a positive one, that’s a valid point but again, when employers have policies in place that you’re aware of, you might as well follow them.