Response by Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin
Ethics Roundtable: Recommending an Employee With a Mixed Performance Record
California State University - Sacramento
First, Fran needs her supervisor to tell her the truth. Although this supervisor hates unpleasantness, it is his ethical duty to inform Fran that he cannot write positive things about her interpersonal skills. Fran is trusting the supervisor to write a positive letter. It is unfair for him to write a negative letter of recommendation without informing Fran of this. I believe that if he writes a negative letter, Fran could sue.
I see several viable options for the supervisor:
- He could tell Fran that he is honestly unable to write her a positive letter of recommendation because of her poor interpersonal skills.
- He could write a letter detailing Fran's strengths and weaknesses, and give the letter to Fran. It would be her choice whether or not to use the letter.
- He could tell Fran that he would write a letter emphasizing only her strengths. However, he could add that if the potential employer called him on the telephone and asked about her people skills, he would be forced to say that those skills were lacking and that her coworkers had said she was "difficult."
I think the second option is most fair to Fran. By following this recommendation, the supervisor gives Fran choices, which equals power and responsibility.