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Can Former Employers Give You a Bad Reference?

Applying for a new job is frustrating enough without worrying whether a former employer will give you a bad reference. This is especially true if you have had positive employment experiences since a negative one, but that mistake in your past could prevent you from landing your dream job now.

If you suspect a former employer could give a potential future employer a bad reference, what can you do?

First and foremost, any reference given by a former employer must be honest. If you apply to a job and are told you were not hired because of false information given by a former employer, you have the right to take legal action. Stop using this employer as a reference (this can be tough if they are your only or most recent option) and contact an attorney immediately.

The issue is a bit more of a problem if an employer does have a valid reason for giving a bad reference. There is no federal law limiting what previous employers can report in references, nor are there any state laws that forbid truthful information from being shared in a reference. The reason many employers are unwilling to share negative information is because they know how difficult it can be to back up their claims or they believe the myth that they cannot share anything other than dates of employment.

Exceptions to the General Rule about Sharing Information

There are instances in which your specific situation prevents a former employer from providing extensive information in a reference. For instance, a union contract or severance agreement might have a clause that limits contact with future employers. If information were given that caused you to lose out on a job opportunity, you could take legal action due to breach of contract.

Some employers also have policies that prevent them from giving negative or positive references. They share neutral information, like job title and date of employment because it makes it easier on them. Though they are legally allowed to share negative information, they know doing so could put them at risk for having to defend their position, which is expensive and time consuming. By having a neutral reference policy, they avoid any issues with former employees.

Ultimately, a company is going to do what is best for them. They are not the ones hiring you now, so they have no stake in how you perform. If sharing negative information could cost them money and time defending their opinion, it is just not worth their effort.

Have you lost out on a job opportunity because of something a former employer said about you? Do you feel a former employer is harassing you in a way that affects your employability? You might have the right to take legal action. Contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.


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