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How to Write a Reference for a Fired Employee

Do you dread having to fire an employee? You’re not the only one. Firing an employee is always uncomfortable no matter how many times you’ve done it. But here’s what’s harder to deal with: what to do when a fired employee asks you for a job reference. Out of guilt, you might feel pressured to write a positive reference letter to help the person get another job, but stop and carefully consider the request before you act.

Before dashing off a reference letter, think about why you fired the person. Attorney Howard Levitt advises against writing references for people fired for just cause. Do you really want to write a reference for an employee fired for stealing or assaulting another employee? Just be aware that, if you do decline to write the reference, you could end up defending your decision in court.

If you decide to write a reference for a fired employee, don’t do it quickly or off the top of your head just because you want to get the uncomfortable task off your to-do list. Confirm that the contact information for the reference is legitimate so you don’t send the letter to someone who’s not authorized to have confidential information about your former employee. Find out if the potential new employer has specific questions. When drafting the reference, be honest, and avoid being vindictive in your responses. Even if you have to say something negative about your former employee, keep your answers factually accurate.

Providing references for fired employees can be awkward, even when you want the person to get a new job. Consider giving one person in your hiring department the job of responding to all reference requests, including those from fired employees, to ensure the letters are consistent and fair.

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