I read your column about reference checks ["A protocol for disability references," October 16, 2013]. Would the same thing apply to recommendation letters?
– Chef, Hyde Park, NY
While recommendation letters, especially for culinary school or college, but also for jobs, are a mainstay in our industry, they do set you up for some liability. A few things could potentially go wrong with a reference letter that could come back to bite you. Some scenarios:
- People change but the letter may be used for years. Imagine, for example, that you write a glowing recommendation letter for an employee who then goes on to develop a drug habit and isn’t the conscientious worker you describe.
- Perhaps you inflate an OK (but not great) employee’s abilities for the purposes of getting them into college or helping them get a job elsewhere. That employee then disappoints at a future job based on your word.
- You write an honest appraisal of an OK (but not great) employee and it prevents them from getting a job.
While unlikely to present a problem, the best strategy for recommendation letters is either not to write them at all or to only write them for employees in which you have high confidence. Even then, it is good to stick to the facts of that employee’s performance while in your employ rather than speculating on the employee’s potential for future excellence with another company.
As always, consult your attorney to establish a policy for references and recommendations. More on recommendation letters here.