A Korn Ferry survey has some interesting insights into references and what they will and will not say. The survey concludes that “positivity” by reference checks is a problem.https://ir.kornferry.com/news-releases/news-release-details/positivity-problem-korn-ferry-survey-finds-saying-only-nice.
The survey has some other interesting data besides the overwhelming indication that references understand that saying only good stuff creates problems for their reputations and is not fair to those requesting the reference.
54% believe that it is more appropriate today to say something negative in a reference check than it was 5 years ago (the fact that many states have protection against defamation liability for negative references as long as the statements made are true may contribute to that comfort level
However, 51% will give a reference only if they can say positive things about the person.
The best part of the survey is that 97% say that they have never gotten into any difficulty by saying something negative about a job candidate to a potential employer. The respondents expressed the view that if something negative is offered in a constructive way, then it does not result in the candidate not being hired, but provides the new employer with insights into the new employee.
There you have it — the truth gives you protection against legal liability but also gives the prospective employer as heads-up.