Reference Letter Example for a Laid Off Employee

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

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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. Therefore, it is easy to write a strong reference letter for someone in this situation.

How to Write a Reference Letter Explaining a Layoff

Read below for 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.


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

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 qualification 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.

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

November 8, 2021

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, 2018. During this period, she demonstrated all the qualities that employers seek in searching for promotable employees. She has an excellent capacity to quickly grasp new theories and applications and has 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

How to Decline a Reference Request

If you do not 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.

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  1. SHRM. "When Giving References, How Truthful Can You Be?" Accessed Nov. 5, 2021.

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