Reference Letter Example for a Laid-Off Employee

Laid-off man in cubicle packing personal items into a container

Compassionate Eye Foundation / Getty Images

What's the best way to write a reference for someone who was laid off from their job? What should it say, and what's the best way to phrase it? You can still write a strong recommendation for someone if their position was eliminated. It's one of the best ways you can help someone find their next job.

Typically, when an employee is laid off (as opposed to fired), it has nothing to do with personal performance. So, it can be easy to write a strong reference letter for someone in this situation.

Review advice on how to write a reference letter for someone who was laid off, and also review a sample letter. This reference letter explains why the employee was laid off from their position, in addition to providing an excellent reference.

Key Takeaways

  • Before you agree to provide a reference for a laid-off employee, check company policy regarding references.
  • Focus on the person's accomplishments in the letter, highlighting their achievements.
  • Include examples of how the employee achieved success on the job or of their most important skills and qualifications.
  • If you aren't able to provide a reference, you can politely decline the request.

How To Write a Reference Letter Explaining a Layoff

In some cases, you may not be able to give a laid-off worker a reference, even if you'd like to. Some companies have policies that preclude employees from providing references for former (or current) employees.

Before you agree to provide a reference, check company policy or check with human resources about your options. Some employers do not provide references or have limits on what can be released regarding an employee’s performance.

Accept or Decline the Request

If you aren't able to provide a reference because of company policy or don't feel comfortable writing the letter, simply say so. It’s fine to decline a reference request if you don’t feel that you can provide a supportive recommendation.

You might consider suggesting another person that the employee should speak to about a reference, or you could ask the human resources department if they can provide a reference for the former employee.

What To Include in the Letter

A reference letter explaining a layoff should be very similar to any other reference letter. It should speak to the person’s qualifications for a job and discuss why they are a strong candidate for employment. However, there are a few differences. Read below for tips on how to write a reference letter for someone who has been laid off.

Focus on the person’s work history. Rather than focusing on when the person was laid off and unemployed, focus on the time when they were employed. Emphasize the successes they had at work or the attributes that made them an excellent employee.

Keep it positive. Make sure your tone is positive about the job seeker throughout the letter. Even when you mention the layoff, emphasize how laying off this person was a loss for the company.

Provide examples. While you should always provide specific examples for any reference letter, it is particularly important if the person was laid off. Offer one or two examples of how the person achieved success at the job, or how the person conveyed positive qualities or skills.

Briefly explain the layoff (if appropriate). If the person was laid off as a result of outside forces (such as downsizing or a company going out of business), explain this. However, keep it brief. You don’t want to focus on the layoff. Rather, you want to highlight the employee’s qualifications for employment.


It's especially important to make a compelling case for why a laid-off candidate would be a terrific hire, because it can be harder to find a new job when you're out of work than when you're employed.

Reference Letter Sample Explaining a Layoff

This is an example of a reference letter explaining a layoff.

Screenshot of a reference letter sample explaining a layoff
©TheBalance 2018

Reference Letter Sample Explaining a Layoff

December 15, 2022

George Evans
Director, Human Resources
Company, Inc.
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321

To Whom It May Concern:

Mary Foley has been employed by Company, Inc. since June 1, 2020. During this period, she demonstrated all the qualities that employers seek in promotable employees. She has an excellent capacity to quickly grasp new theories and applications. She has also always sought to gain additional responsibilities.

Mary's zeal to improve herself has been displayed by her attendance at evening school to complete her master's degree. Her competence is such that, in the absence of our Branch Manager, she was very capable of directing the entire workforce to get the job done. We even hired her as interim Branch Manager during this period due to her excellent leadership. She held this role while continuing her work as a graduate school student, further demonstrating her ability to multitask with great success.

It is unfortunate for Company, Inc. that, due to economic constraints, we must restructure our organization and lose valued employees such as Mary. I would recommend her without reservation for any position or career that she may choose to pursue.

If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to call or email me.


Signature (hard copy letter)

George Evans

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long should a reference letter be?

A reference letter doesn't need to be longer than one page. Three or four paragraphs that explain how you know the person, their top attributes, and why you are recommending them, is an appropriate length.

Who can job seekers use as references?

Former employers, colleagues, business acquaintances, professors, clients, or vendors can be used as professional references. If you have limited work contacts, you can use a personal or character reference, but don't use a family member.

Was this page helpful?
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. SHRM. "When Giving References, How Truthful Can You Be?"

  2. Federal Reserve Bank of New York. "How Do People Find Jobs?" 

  3. CareerOneStop. "References."

Related Articles