What Can an Ex-Employer Tell About You if Someone Calls?

Your former employers must exercise caution when providing job references.
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If you’re in the job market, you might be worried about what your former employer may say about you when contacted by a prospective new employer, especially if you left your previous workplace on less than stellar terms. Because employers are not legally obligated to withhold information about your job performance, you may have reason to be concerned. Depending on your previous employer’s policy regarding providing references for former employees, you might not be the only one with reason to worry, however.

What You Can Do

    If you are anxious about what your old boss may say about you if he is contacted as a reference, one thing you can do is to ask one of your former employer’s human resources representatives what the company’s policy is for providing references. To avoid potential legal problems, many businesses limit what they will say to mentioning your starting and ending work dates, job title, and possibly, salary, which means you may have nothing to worry about. If your previous employer has a more revealing approach to providing references for former employees, you should consider taking proactive measures when you are interviewing with a possible new employer such as providing your list of references after your job interview is over. This will give you the chance to honestly explain the circumstances that caused you to leave your old position before your interviewer hears them from your potentially disgruntled old boss.

What Can Be Said

    The truth is, your former employers can say as much or as little as they want to about how you performed during your tenure with them. For instance, your previous boss can talk about your attendance record, your abilities, work ethic, and communication skills. Put simply, your old boss can discuss anything related to your job performance, regardless of whether his comments are positive or negative.

What Cannot Be Said

    Although he may be tempted to, your former boss cannot discuss things that don’t relate to your job performance with someone who contacts him as a reference. Nor can he knowingly lie about you. Per federal law, your previous boss also can’t discuss details about you such as your race, gender, sexual orientation and religion.

Consequences of Saying or Doing Too Much

    If your former boss defames you by knowingly telling a lie that damages your reputation or financial interests, blacklists you by actively trying to prevent you from getting another job, or violates your privacy by sharing details about your personal life, you may want to contact an employment attorney. If you and your lawyer decide to file a civil lawsuit against your previous employer and win, you may receive compensation for lost wages, mental anguish and punitive damages.

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