“Slimy” co-worker needs a reference

Q: I received a reference call on a former co-worker. I
don’t know for sure but I think the guy was fired. He was very slimy
and I think he used the company credit card for personal expenses. What
is the protocol for returning such a call? Do I tell what I know? Do I
just say he was a suspicious person but I have no proof? I wish he had
told me he was going to list me as a reference. I would have asked
that he not shared my contact info as a reference. We were not that

A: Your former co-worker has put you in a difficult situation. It
sounds like his track record at your company was less than stellar. It
is wise to ask a potential reference if they are willing to serve as a
reference. Some people are not comfortable providing a reference, even
for colleagues who are good employees.

You should determine if your company has a policy on providing
references. Most employers request that these calls be directed to
Human Resources (HR) and that you not return the call. This is
particularly important if your former colleague was terminated. If he
was stealing from your company, your employer may be filing charges
against him. I would suggest that you pass the reference caller’s
information to HR and ask them to handle it. If you receive another
reference call on him, I would suggest that you share your HR
department’s telephone number and explain that you are not able to
provide a reference. When an employee steals from their company, an
internal investigation is often launched to better understand what has
been stolen, if others are involved, what controls should have been in
place as well as how to prevent future thefts. If this former employee
was given a company credit card and he used it for personal use without
authorization, that is theft. Often times, if an employee steals once
and is not caught, the theft continues.

You are smart to ask the question.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.