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Think before you make a recommendation on LinkedIn

For most people, the biggest initial roadblock to writing a LinkedIn recommendation is the energy and effort it requires.

But before you sit down to write a few breezy paragraphs about a colleague or employee, think about this: Does your company have a policy against it?

The world of professional recommendations, especially for those on the job hunt, became meaningless long ago because of fear of lawsuits. Basically, most places will simply confirm only that someone worked for the company -- they're not allowed to say anything more for fear of being sued.

For example, here at The Miami Herald, the company has a policy that says managers aren't allowed to write any type of recommendation -- virtual or not -- for an employee.

While our company's policy specifically mentions social networking sites like LinkedIn, local attorney Joan Canny said the safe thing is to assume that if your company has a policy about recommendations, the same principles apply when it comes to even a casual reference online.

"Don't expect your employer to be sympathetic because it's a social network,'' said Canny, a labor and employment lawyer with the Miami office of Morgan Lewis & Bockius.

Because an electronic reference lives online, it actually lasts longer and may have greater effect than a letter or a phone call, she points out.

Of course, this only applies to a negative reference -- or especially to someone who you are leery of recommending. Canny thinks you're opening yourself up to potential legal problems if you knowingly write a positive recommendation for someone you know has done something wrong.

We checked with several labor lawyers, who all had different opinions as to how seriously you should take an online recommendation. But all agreed on this: Ultimately, whatever is written reflects on you, too.

If you're on the other side and are looking to spruce up your page with a few kind words, why not ask your colleagues instead of your boss? Sending a request to bosses may put your supervisor in an awkward situation.

Recommend a question we should answer! Send us an e-mail at Poked@MiamiHerald.com or post a comment below.

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