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What to Do if a Former Employer Gives You a Bad Reference

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Navigating the sometimes choppy waters of the job market can be tough for anyone, but it is especially frustrating when a former employer is speaking negatively about your performance. If you have been searching for a job and find things are going well until potential employers contact your references, you might be a victim of retaliatory job references. The bad news is you’ve likely missed out on a few great opportunities because of a past experience. The good news is you have rights and you can take legal action.

Relationships with former employers never completely end. You might have retirement savings tied up in the company or be responsible for protecting intellectual property and trade secrets. Employers also have responsibilities when it comes to former employees. There are laws regarding what they can say about an employee, which means if your former employer is bad-mouthing you when they receive a reference call, there may be actions you can take to remedy the situation.

Providing a Reference

Many employers will release only basic information when contacted for a reference to protect themselves from lawsuits. They usually confirm employment dates and job responsibilities, salary history, and might include information about whether you were dismissed or chose to leave on your own. Even if you were not a model employee, most employers do not give specific details about your conduct while on the job. And obviously, they are not permitted to make up out-right lies to damage your reputation and make it difficult for you to get another job.

This is true if you leave the company and move on completely, or if you file a legal action against the company for something they were doing. If you are a victim of a hostile work environment or discrimination, federal and state laws may protect your right to file a grievance against your employer. If they choose to bad-mouth you as a result of your whistle blowing, they may be violating anti-retaliation laws.

Many employers act responsibly and even if a former employee was not ideal, they give a respectful (or at least neutral) reference. Sometimes this means saying only that the person was an employee for a specific time-frame and nothing more. In order to take legal action, you must determine if your former employer is saying things that are untrue, and whether you can prove it.

If You are Concerned, Speak Up

If you are failing to receive offers for jobs for which you are qualified and you suspect it might be due to negative references, speak up. You can ask a potential employer why they chose not to extend an offer (they might not tell you) and you can speak with an attorney about your rights.

You can also ask your former employer what is being said. Again, they might not tell you, but it could provide an opportunity to clear up a misunderstanding or at least alert you to the fact that they aren’t a great reference.

If you believe you are a victim of retaliation by a former employer or you would like to know more about your rights as they pertain to job references, contact Miller and Steiert, P.C. for more information.

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