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When it comes to landing your next job, few aspects of the interview process carry as much weight or can be as impactful on a prospective employer as a reference – and this can be either a negative or a positive. And while nobody wants to receive a bad reference, two recent court cases that made their way up to the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice have shown that an employer, ex or otherwise, is under no obligation to provide you with a good reference.

In landmark cases, with the judgments being delivered a month apart, Papp v Stokes Economic Consulting Inc., 2017 ONSC 2357 and Kanak v Riggin, 2016 ONSC 2837, saw two former employees sue their ex-employers for defamation after receiving negative references. In both cases it was easy to establish that the two respective employers had made defamatory statements; however, both defendants were invariably cleared of liability when it was established that the defence of justification (truth) and qualified privilege protected them.

What does this verdict mean?

For employers, it means they can breathe a little easier knowing that (at least, in Ontario) they are not likely to be held liable in defamation if they give a negative reference, assuming they speak truthfully and take steps to verify any poor performance or negative events. While this is undoubtedly good news for employers, it does little in way of protecting employees from receiving a bad reference, but that doesn’t mean you are at the whim of your current or former employer.

So, what can an employee do to ensure they receive a sterling reference?

As an employee, it is always prudent to be proactive throughout your entire tenure with a company to ensure you receive a good reference when the time comes. It is also wise to follow these steps before and when you approach a reference:

  1. Think carefully about who you select – Try choosing a person who has had the opportunity to experience your work ethic, personality and witness your accomplishments first hand.
  2. Ask for their permission – Regardless of how good you feel your relationship with your reference is, nobody likes to be blindsided. Always check first to ensure they are comfortable giving you a recommendation.
  3. Coach your references – Make sure your references have up-to-date copies of your resume and portfolio, and you have taken the time to explain to them your best qualities and some of your notable accomplishments.
  4. Keep your references informed – Searching for a job is a process, and often, you may be required to give references to several employers. When this happens, tell your references they should expect to be contacted, when, and by who.
  5. Use a staffing agency for your search – The reality is that either due to lack of experience or unfortunate events, not everyone will be able to provide a positive professional reference. In these cases, it is best to use a staffing agency, for they will not only handle the initial interviews and references themselves, their expertise can help align you with a job that is more suited to your employment past.

Employment Professionals Canada understands what businesses are looking for, which is why they are the perfect partner for your next career move. Contact our team of staffing experts today and discover what career options are available to you.


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