Choice Words and Phrases
When you really have nothing good to say in a recommendation about someone you’ve hired, fired or worked with, there are a few choice words and phrases you can use.
Firm policy – Tell the person you have a firm policy and never write recommendations. If they ask why, simply tell them it’s a personal choice and leave it at that. If they keep bugging you, remind them it’s a personal decision and has nothing to do with their request. The challenge here is sticking by this statement no matter what. This means you must deny every request.
I’m Not Qualified – There might be cases where you really aren’t qualified to offer a recommendation. You may have worked with someone but not closely, so in cases such as these, tell the truth. Tell them you really never worked in the same department or environment so you wouldn’t feel comfortable writing anything. If they persist, tell them it’s best to speak to the HR department.
Have a Handbook Policy – Many companies include a statement in their employee handbook that states when and if the employee/employer relationship ends, the company adheres to a strict policy on offering only job title, dates worked, and wages received as far as references go. Make sure you include supervisory people in this statement. If you are asked to write a letter, you can always point the requester to the handbook policy.
Prepare a Standard Recommendation Form – This is also a good idea. You can create a form letter of sorts on company letterhead that includes a place for the person’s name, job title(s), start and end pay levels, and time worked with the company. Don’t include any statement in the letter that says, “please feel free to contact me if you have any questions." This will just open up another avenue as a new employer may call you and then you might be stuck saying something you don’t want to say.
Finally, if your company is fortunate enough to have an attorney versed in labor laws on retainer or if you know an attorney, ask for their assistance in these matters. While refusing a recommendation is hard to do, often it’s a must-do, especially when you truly have nothing good to say.