The subject of references came up recently. The manager in question was concerned about whether to write one at all. He was trapped between trying to be polite to the departing employee and an overwhelming urge to warn the new employer.
There is no obligation to write a reference. Some companies have policies discouraging anyone from writing a character reference on the firm’s letterhead. If you do write a reference, you are advised to avoid writing one that could damage someone’s prospects of getting a job. The wisest course then, is the same advice given to Thumper in Bambi; if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Or you could give a reference such as this one, sent for one Bob Smith;
To Whom It May Concern
1 Bob Smith, my assistant, can always be found
2 hard at work at his desk. He works independently, without
3 wasting company time talking to colleagues. Bob never
4 thinks twice about assisting fellow employees, and always
5 finishes given assignments on time. Often, he takes extended
6 measures to complete his work, sometimes skipping coffee
7 breaks. Bob is a dedicated individual who has absolutely no
8 vanity in spite of the high accomplishments and profound
9 knowledge in his field. I firmly believe that Bob can be
10 classed as an asset employee, the type which cannot be
11 dispensed with. Consequently, I duly recommend that Bob be
12 promoted to executive manager, and a proposal will be
13 executed as soon as possible.
Follow up email
Bob Smith was standing over my shoulder while I wrote his reference. Kindly re-read only the odd-numbered lines.