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Employment & Labour

Truth is key when providing employee reference: Zeilikman

Although a recent Ontario Superior Court ruling that upheld an employer’s ability to provide an honest reference for a former employee is only binding in this province, judges around the country will be able to use the decision as a persuasive “reference point,” Vaughan labour and employment lawyer Arthur Zeilikman tells Metro News.

As the article notes, the case centred around an Ontario man who was laid off from his position in 2011. When a recruiter called his former boss to ask for an honest reference, the old employer provided several negative comments and the man did not get the job.

The man sued his former company for $500,000 in damages for defamation, $65,000 for wrongful dismissal, $200,000 in punitive damages and $30,000 for infliction of mental suffering.

However, Metro News reports, while the Ontario Superior Court ordered the company to pay the man $17,000 for wrongful dismissal because of insufficient notice, the rest of his complaints were not accepted, as the company successfully argued it had two valid defences against defamation. These included justification that the statements were true, as well as qualified privilege — that the former boss had a duty to share the information and the potential new employer had a legitimate need for it.

Ultimately, Zeilikman, principal of Zeilikman Law who comments generally and was not involved in the matter, says he has simple advice for those who are called for a reference.

"Don't act maliciously, speak the truth and be careful," he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

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