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So here's the sequence of events:

  • I gave a coworker that I had a good working relationship with a good reference for his next job.

  • That next employer of my coworker's actually called back references - including me - and wanted me to fill out a form. While this coworker is annoying, he generally did his job well, so I provided a good reference.

  • I was on vacation during his last week.

  • On his last day, he reassigned over 100 tickets to the wrong department as a joke. I have heard he called it a prank. This definitely negatively impacts the business as we now have to go through each ticket and look at them. It increases work at a time when staffing is low.

So ... since I get to come back from vacation and clean up after him ... here is the question:

I still have the contact that reached out to me for a reference.

Is it appropriate/professional for me to reach back out and provide an update? Or should I just drop it?

  • I am not his manager, or a manager.

  • Coworker has been talked to by our manager a lot, but I'm unaware of him being on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

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  • 13
    Can you add your location to the question? The legality of what you're asking about appears to depend on local laws.
    – Barmar
    Jun 8 at 15:38
  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 8 at 15:44
  • 11
    Coworker reassigned 100 random tickets that did not belong to him, and interfered with just about the entire team's workflow. We did recover quickly but we did have to spend resources fixing it that we otherwise wouldn't have to use.
    – LawrenceC
    Jun 9 at 2:49

12 Answers 12

167

Be careful what you do. Bad references can land you or your company in court, which will cost you money. What you can do is call the new employer and tell them that you wish to retract the reference you gave. Without any reasons. No matter how much they ask, no reasons given.

(Although there was one case where someone went to court over a bad reference, and the company brought over 50 witnesses who all stated that they would never, ever, again in their whole life want to work with that person again).

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  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 8 at 15:43
  • 42
    Oh this is a great answer. How about "Due to some information that just came to my attention, I wish to retract the recommendation."
    – user20925
    Jun 8 at 19:45
  • 7
    I came here to make sure someone had responded with this. It's exactly what I'd do. To withdraw a reference is very telling in any case, so providing any details will only put yourself at risk.
    – James D
    Jun 9 at 4:34
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    I am curious why he should say anything at all. Why not just stay silent, and not give any future references? Any cons in that?
    – CodePanda
    Jun 9 at 7:36
  • 35
    @CodePanda Because giving a good reference for a bad hire hurts your own reputation. And maybe you actually care a little about there being consequences for shitty behaviour. Jun 9 at 10:29
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  • Should I update the reference contact with this new information?

Unless you believe that being a reference for someone indefinitely ties you to their actions, then there is nothing for you to do.

You were asked to provide a reference and you provided the reference. Everything that you filled out on the form was accurate at the time. The fact that this coworker made some questionable decisions after shouldn't matter to you nor does it have any bearing on your reputation.

You have no control over what this or any other coworker to whom you give a reference to does after you provide the reference. Any person or company that would attempt to hold you accountable for actions that your reference took after the fact are unreasonable and not worth your time.

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  • 13
    This needs to be the accepted answer. I don't know why people seem to think that being a reference comes with some great immense responsibility to the company that the other person is applying for.
    – JMERICKS
    Jun 8 at 14:32
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    @JMERICKS, because... some people just feel being responsible for their actions, in general.
    – Zeus
    Jun 9 at 0:39
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    @JMERICKS: it's not "some great immense responsibility", it's just doing a relatively-decent thing. I wouldn't criticise anyone for taking no action in this situation, but I also don't think it's surprising that some people would want to. Jun 10 at 10:18
  • 1
    "nor does it have any bearing on your reputation." - it shouldn't have, but my experience says it quite does.
    – Mołot
    Jun 10 at 15:01
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It is your reputation too.

This guy used your reputation and good name to help get a job. I see no downsides to reaching out to the hiring company and giving an update and only potential reputational defense, as small of a chance as it may have of mattering.

Even if you aren't comfortable revealing what happened, you could just say you can no longer give a good reference.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 11 at 10:35
27

I would be guided by what you think his intention was. You say you think he's described it as "a prank", in which case I wonder whether it was just that; an unthinking attempt at a joke when he left. Assuming it was an easy thing for him to do, then did he assume it would easy to "undo" (just unassign all the tickets he assigned on his last day)? If that is the case it feels harsh to me, to raise it with his new employer and possibly lose him his new job.

If you feel this was something more serious, akin to "sabotage", something he's likely to repeat at his new place, then you may wish to ask to withdraw it as @gnasher729 suggests.

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  • I mean judging from the amount of tickets he reassigned this sounds like more than just a prank
    – JMERICKS
    Jun 7 at 16:15
  • 2
    It depends if you can just go it in one go, I think. In my mind I'm imagining doing "Select All..." and "Reassign...", but you're right, if you have to go into each one individually, maybe it's a sign of something more serious Jun 7 at 16:19
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    @JMERICKS - just because fixing it is hard doesn't mean that it was hard to do initially. It's easy for me to update all names in a field and replace the 'E' with 'T'. It would be a horrible pain to fix that data after I have done so. (Although, I should recognize it as being a pain to fix, and would never do that as a 'prank'.) Jun 7 at 17:16
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    Even if he legitimately thought this was a prank, would you want to work with or refer someone that is childish enough not to be able to imagine the consequences of their actions to that extent? Are you going to trust him not to pull another prank of similar nature after essentially giving him positive reinforcement? Jun 8 at 13:59
  • 3
    If the OP still has this person's personal contact info, he could reach out directly and call them out on their stupid stunt. Perhaps the OP will get a well-deserved apology. But potentially sabotaging their new job over a misguided "prank" may be a bit of an overreach.
    – Lindsey D
    Jun 8 at 18:06
11

Keep quiet and mind your own business

Here are the facts:

  • You considered the former colleague reasonably competent, and had good relations with him while you were working together. In fact, it is so good you were willing to go the extra mile and actually filled in a form in his behalf.

  • You went on vacation, and he screwed something up, or made a stupid prank, and now you are feeling betrayed because you need to clean up his mess.

Ask yourself, were you right about him before, or now? If you are correct now, then you are a terrible judge of characters, because you could not figure his personality through all that time you were working together (years?). If you were right before, then you could be just temporarily hurt now, but it would pass in a few days.

In any case, your former coworker is smart enough not to pull pranks while he works for a company. Therefore, it could be expected he will keep clean at least for a while in the new workplace. If you contact his new employer now, the thing that would be hurt most is your reputation. You could look as a flip-flop and unstable.

If you keep quiet, even if he screws something up on a new job, you could always play dumb and say "he never did such things while we were working together", which is actually true (he pulled his prank while you were on vacation). Although the chances of someone blaming a reference from an old company for the things an employee could do in a new company are pretty slim.

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    A summary of your post: 1.) OP either can chose to be an accomplice in the action causing the company damage, or they are terrible judges of personality and an unstable flip-flop. 2.) The person causing the damage is smart. 3.) At this point OP should be afraid of speaking up. 4.) OP could "play dumb" (meaning: lie), to save themselves, if necessary. — That's what you wrote.
    – Levente
    Jun 8 at 2:28
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    @Levente Accomplice ? Are you kidding ? This is not even a misdemeanor, and you are talking like it is a high crime. At worst, some guy made stupid prank while OP was on vacation. Before that, OP was asked to fill a form about his former colleague, and he did that to the best of his ability. OP is under no obligation to act like Gestapo or NKVD , and to constantly monitor his former colleague, updating his dossier. And nobody asks him to lie, in fact nobody asks him anything about former colleague. He filled form once, God knows if anybody read that, and that is about it.
    – rs.29
    Jun 8 at 5:59
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    It's possible for someone to not know everything about another person's behavior without being a "terrible judge of character." Insulting the OP's judgement based on a single anecdote you read on the internet is excessive.
    – barbecue
    Jun 8 at 12:34
  • @barbecue: absolutely. rs.29 might want to read a little about Ted Bundy or Harold Shipman, and reconsider some things about how good people are on average at predicting other people's behaviour. Jun 10 at 10:22
  • @barbecue Well, if after x months or years working with someone you cannot determine if that person is competent and good employee, than references are essentially meaningless. Or you are simply bad judge of character. Those "insulted" by truth are not my concern ;)
    – rs.29
    Jun 11 at 8:04
9

Your coworker could hurt your reputation since you're a reference

Acting as a reference means your coworker has the ability to tarnish YOUR reputation. People may think you're also going to "prank" the company when you leave. I'd update the company with this new information.

To address comments:

The OP said the coworker was annoying, but did a good job. I'm guessing this is not the first annoying prank he's pulled, just the biggest... And the OP got to clean it up after his vacation.

The current company will remember the prankster's name to make sure he never works there again. As he continues to burn bridges with mean-spirited "jokes" he'll get added to the "don't rehire" list at more and more places. You don't want to be associated with that.

Scenario A:

The OP can say nothing. The guy get hired on his reference and pranks the new company. Boss remembers it. OP applies to same company.

Scenario B:

OP contacts new company with factual update. Guy is already hired, so stays and pranks the new company. Boss remembers OP giving new info + pranks . OP applies to same company.

Which scenario do you want to be in as the OP?

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  • How would the people in your current company know you provided a reference, and how would retracting that reference by contacting the new company have anything to do with protecting your reputation at the current company?
    – ColleenV
    Jun 7 at 17:12
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    @ColleenV - It's about protecting your reputation AS A WHOLE. The current company probably won't know. What if the OP wants a job with new company in the future though? Jun 7 at 17:13
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    How does a single instance of bad judgment affect the reputation of the person that gave them a good reference before that action if the reference was truthful? I wouldn’t think the person that gave the reference was a bad person because they couldn’t predict someone doing something stupid and mean.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 7 at 17:29
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    I doubt any company will even remember OP's name as a reference if it ever comes up. There's zero reputation hit here. Jun 7 at 18:29
  • Scenario C: You withdraw the reference and word gets back to your former coworker. You apply to his company. His manager ask him what he thinks of you. Do you think you will get the job? Jun 14 at 19:17
7

Unless you get contacted by another possible employer for this person then by all means let them know. If not then just leave it be. It is not your concern anymore.

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6

IMO, if you have the option - update the reference.

Also, its a bit of an security lesson to a company that not all exiting employees are the same.

And a huge plug to transaction control in versioning software :)

5

You should immediately contact the person you provided the reference for and let them know that you can no longer provide a good reference and explain why. If they’re smart, they will remove you from their references. If you are contacted in the future to provide a reference for them, be truthful.

Assuming your reference was truthful at the time you gave it, there’s no danger to your reputation. We can’t see the future; we can only talk about our experience with someone up to the point someone else asks about it. If they start robbing people the day after we give a good recommendation, we can feel bad that we misjudged their character, but it doesn’t change how well they did their work around us.

Telling someone's new job about a bit of unprofessional maliciousness on their way out the door isn’t constructive. What would the new company do with that information? If the actions were illegal or endangered people’s safety that would be different.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 11 at 10:34
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I think you should contact your company's HR department and talk this over with them. You may find out that they have a corporate policy of discouraging peer references; some companies even discourage manager references, preferring to retain for themselves all communications about employees.

(For the sake of your ex-colleagues privacy, you may want to hold back info like the name of the new employer and exactly how long the colleague may have been planning to leave.)

The point is, given that you still work there, the employer may have some responsibility for your comments. And as others have said, negative reviews can be very risky.

Having said that, given that the incident was after your conversation with the new employer, and presuming that your comments were reasonable and fair at the time they were given, and especially assuming that you had no reason to expect this person to act like this, I don't think it's worth reaching out. The experience you have with this person over the course of your history with them is more likely to predict their performance at the new job than this incident is. And providing a reference is a point-in-time data transfer, it is not an ongoing commitment to monitor a person on anyone's behalf.

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Before any action, you need to consider :

Motive and professionalism

This is only partly about whether this was this done maliciously/knowingly, or literally just as a prank. Given his standing/experience, surely he should have known the real world impact, and shouldn't indulge such pranks anyway. So you and others have to decide first, how serious was the lapse, whether deliberate or reckless. If he'd stayed, would you have fired him? Disciplined him? Told him he was a dick, and don't do it again?

Recklessness and poor judgment can be just as bad as malice,if a person is prone to repeat. The key question is, you've known him ages now. So how does this reflect on his overall reliability and professionalism? What is a balanced view?

If this is a severe enough issue to reflect materially on his professionalism, what should you do about it

You have options.

  • You gave an honest reference, and can maintain that position. You may have no obligation to update a reference after its issued (but check legally, as he was still an employee!)
  • You may feel nothing happened that merits a reference anyway, and he was still a valued employee if he had chosen to stay.
  • You may feel that having verbally confirmed the reference, knowing it was being relied on, that not disclosing that you now have new information, could pose a legal risk in the eyes of HR or your lawyer.
  • Or you may feel this tarnishes him so much that ethically and as good practice, it needs something done, or you can no longer stand by the reference.

Bear in mind that anything said, is nuclear. You could merely say there's a mild question over his departing conduct, and it'll sound like a terrible thing, because if it wasn't terrible, why would you have reached out? The other party will demand full details, again, why would you begin to warn them only to partly do it. So this is all or nothing, burn to the ground or leave alone.

I can't say which of those to follow, but I have 2 points to guide you.

  1. If you feel inclined to contact the 3rd party, get the advice backing the decision from your lawyer, not just HR. And get it in writing. The scope for litigation or other backlash is just too high not to.
  2. If you do say something, maybe phrase it as, "we miswrote the reference and wish to withdraw it (or withdraw and replace it)". Or that an on-file draft was accidentally sent and not a final one. That at least gives you some scope to not nuke everything. Perhaps.
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Especially if it's possibly just a case of poor judgment and was not intentionally malicious, I would not contact the new employer. That could sabotage his employment at that company and could suddenly make you his enemy (which then could potentially create more grief for you in the future). Do you want that headache? I am not of the opinion that two wrongs make a right.

However, I would warn him to be careful not to do such things in the future, explaining that his prank was not at all funny, created a significant amount of work for everyone else, and put the reputation of his references (including yours) at risk.

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