It can be difficult to fire someone, since termination often creates bad blood or uncomfortable situations in the workplace. If you are asked to write a recommendation or reference letter for a terminated employee, you may wonder what you should say and how you should say it.
The most important thing to do first is to check with your HR department and find out what legal ramifications are involved if you refuse or decline to write the letter. Refusal to provide a reference can subject you to lawsuits and can make you seem inflexible and short-sighted. After that, just follow some of these tips:
- Focus on the positive. Even if the employee was fired for disciplinary reasons, that doesn't mean he or she didn't have other good qualities. Intelligence, hard work, creativity, temperament and sociability are all possible subjects.
- Look at performance reviews. Find specific examples of when the employee did something well, efficiently or creatively. Even if you didn't write the review, you can cite it in your recommendation.
- Don't go negative. Make sure you keep your tone positive or neutral. Anything negative written down could be used in a potential lawsuit down the road, so avoid it. That being said… - Don't lie. If you have absolutely nothing glowing to say about the employee, just stick to the facts. Verify the work dates, position title, salary and duties. Don't make the employee out to be better than he or she really is, because it won't be any help to anyone later on.
- Be ready to back up your claims. Many potential employers will call you as a reference and ask you to verify that the employee is worthy of being hired. Therefore, make sure that if you say "Janet was never late" or "Tom increased sales by 6%," you're ready to swear to it.
- Consider the reason for termination. If the employee was fired due to factors outside of performance or behavior, it's okay to mention it. Saying that layoffs, downsizing or budget cuts caused the termination actually reflects better on the employee, especially if you add that you're sad to see him or her go.
Index of letter of recommendation templates