Wrote a recommendation letter for an employee that later had terrible performance

An employee had poor performance after I wrote a recommendation letter on her
behalf. She also quit without notice. I feel obligated to give her new employer who
happens to be an acquaintance a head’s up but I don’t know what I am allowed to
disclose. I feel that my own reputation is at stake I also live in North Carolina.

Asked on May 14, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

You are not obligated to affirmatively reach out and give them a heads up about what happened or changed after you wrote the letter, but if they reach out to you, you need to either decline all comment (which is your right; you don't have to reply to such informational requests) or else answer truthfully about problems, making sure that anything you say is provable (so you don't defame her: defamation is making untrue statements of fact which damage another's reputation or casts her in a bad light). If you say anything about her to them, if they inquire, and your comments are more positive than they ought to be, if she then causes problems, you could potentially, in some cases, be liable to them. (The letter should not cause a problem so long as it was true as of the date it was written.)
You are allowed to reach out to them to tell them, again, nothing but the truth, but that is a fraught area: if she is, say, demoted or fired because of your comments after you voluntarily reached out to them, expect that she very well may sue you for defamation or tortious intererence with economic advantage--the fact you called her employer voluntarily to do this will likely upset her to the point of suing. Even if the facts support you and you win (i.e. you tell the verifiable truth), do you want to have to defend a lawsuit?

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