Bad References a Good Thing?

Last Updated Jun 13, 2008 1:05 PM EDT

Way back in 1984, an insurance salesman was awarded $1.9 million by a Texas court in a defamation suit because his employer, Frank B. Hall and Company, was asked for a reference and, perhaps too candidly, rated the salesman "a zero."

Thus began the era of reference fear; many companies will now only confirm the dates of employment. While the law, at least in theory, protects truthful references, the unwritten rule is that if you're going to give a reference, it must be a good one for fear of a big-bucks lawsuit.

The catch here is that some see it as harmless to give a good reference to a bad employee because all you're doing is unloading your problem on someone else (possibly even a competitor). But is this ethical?[poll id=51]Have a thought on the reference-fear dilemma? Join the discussion in the comments section.

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.