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I'm wondering if people can help. 

I write the references for our company for any staff that have left the business and have requested one. 

This week I came across a request for an employee that was dismissed for poor performance.

One of the questions was 'why did the individual leave the company?' and I didn't know how to answer it.

I know that you cannot write a bad reference but to say he was dismissed was the truth...? Would it be better to decline to reference?

I've looked on the CIPD and ACAS websites but havn't come across much that's helped. Has anyone got any advice or come accross similar situations?

Many thanks,


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  • Hi Milly

    Some great advice from the HR Forum so thanks for posting such an interesting question.

    The organisation I used to work for had the same approach as Becky, and regardles of what we were asked we would only provide basic information.  Personally I would not decline the reference if you have always provided references to others, as you don't want to open up some sort of discrimination angle, but I would perhaps consider switching to the generic reference from now going forwards.

    Tamasin is correct in stating that the reference has to be true, accurate and fair so if there were dimissed for poor performance then that is factual and objective.  The only caveat when this would not apply is if they resigned during an investigation or part way through a disciplinary, some employers have fallen into the trap of saying they were dismissed for gross misconduct when technically they had not actually been dismissed nor the case concluded.  So in this specific instance you could correctly say resigned, or even resigned during a disciplinary investigatoin into X.

    Anyhow I hope this helps and see you in Bristol soon!


  • Hi Milly

    This is a great thing to raise as most people will come across this.  

    There are a few things that you need to bear in mind when providing a reference. The first thing is that there is no general requirement to provide a reference unless this is required by the contract of employment or for a specific business sector such as childcare or finance. The approach should be consistent, so if your company normally issues references, then you must do so in this instance.

    The contents of a reference should in substance be true, accurate and fair.  As an organisation, you should avoid misleading a future employer as this could come back to bite you.  In this instance, the employee was dismissed.  It's ok to state this as long as it's true.

    A lot of organisations respond to references with standard templates, as Becky states, so perhaps you might want to discuss internally how you standardise your approach in order to make things a little easier in future.

    Good luck


  • Hi Milly

    Just a few ideas..

    The person involved obviously needs to work again and just because they failed in that particular post and that role at one time does not mean that right now they have no transferable skills or even a better attitude. I would just be wary if it was something criminal that they were dismissed for eg one dangerous act of gross misconduct. Otherwise, I would take the view that being dismissed may have been a shot across the boughs for them and clearly they hope to be taken on elsewhere.People might fail in one role and excel in another. Obviously it is a difficult issue from both points of view and this is tricky for you trying to be accurate and fair.

    I wonder could you perhaps say something like the person was employed from whenever to whenever, that they showed good skills in areas such as (name two or three) (there must have been some!) in general terms, at the time, the position had not proved an optimal match for X and that consequently he/she had left. That way you would be telling the employer in general terms that it was no deal for the person at that time in that particular job but you'd be presenting it more in terms of just a mismatch rather than saying the person was dreadful and had to be dismissed.

    Then upbeat it a bit with something like you would like to take this opportunity to wish her/him every success with his/her application. The employer can then choose to contact you for further information if they still feel they have to and you have been truthful but fair as far as you have intimated that they were not matched to the job but you have not stripped them of their dignity or refused to give them any credit for some of their skills that they had.

    Hope you get on ok with this. :)

  • Hi Milly,

    We have a company policy only to provide standard information when responding to reference requests, regardless of the reason for leaving (i.e. every reference has the same info, no more, no less). We only confirm: name, job title, start date and end date.  

    Doing this tends to avoid any need to worry about how to answer certain questions as you can just use the excuse 'it's company policy not to answer'.  If we ever have any line managers who want to provide more information than is company policy, they are advised that this needs to be done as a personal reference from their own phone/email (i.e. no connection to us as a company). 

    Hope that helps. 

    Many thanks


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