Dear Margo

Dear Margo column

Q. A household employee of mine will no longer be working for me, by mutual agreement. She wasn’t terrible, but neither would I call her top notch. The problem is: I have to call her something because she has asked for a letter of reference. I am conflicted about how to proceed. I don’t want to harm her chances for gainful employment, but neither do I want to stick another woman with someone who really wasn’t acceptable to me. A friend of mine said you can get sued for sending out a negative reference. Is this true? What would you do in this situation?


A. As in libel, truth is a successful defense. Anybody can sue anybody, however, and who wants to go through a lawsuit? When it comes to letters of reference, legal action is unusual in the domestic worker category. Factual accuracy, I repeat, is crucial. In business, the fear is greater, which is why some companies only confirm employment dates, etc., or refuse to supply references at all. I will tell you what many doctors do when they get a request from another hospital about a resident or an attending, and the reference would not be an unqualified rave: They write a note basically saying, “Let’s have a conversation about this. Here is my number.”

That’s what I would do. Tell your soon-to-be former employee that you’re not comfortable giving out a form letter, but she should feel free to have any potential employer call you. And bear in mind that something you thought was sub-par perhaps would not be important to a potential employer. Because I would be grateful to someone for the straight dope, I would be inclined to offer the same.


Q. I have a really nice marriage to a lovely man who, unfortunately, has one flaw that drives me to distraction. It may not sound important, but it’s a great annoyance to me. I can never get him to give me his opinion! This might make it sound like he’s easy to get along with, but it feels to me like I might as well be living alone, as I have to make all the decisions. I ask where he’d like to have dinner when we go out, and he always says, “I don’t care” or “Wherever you’d like.” I ask how he’d like to spend the weekend. “I don’t care.” I ask which movie should we see? “I don’t care.” Is there a “cure” for his I-don’t-care-ism?


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A. I sympathize with you because there are times when I, myself, am not in a choosing mood — or mode. Your guy, alas, sounds like one of those people whose predisposition is “Cogito eggo sum”: I think, therefore I waffle.

For whatever reason he doesn’t care where he eats, what he does, or what movies he sees. Given that this is the case, I suggest you stop asking for his opinion and plan outings to suit yourself. You will be spared the aggravation of getting no answer, and you will eat/go/see just what you want. There’s a chance that, when deprived of being asked, he may decide he has an opinion!

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