Over-Informative Employment Reference: More Than Dates and Position
What To Do When Company Reference Policy Is Not Honored
DETROIT (July 27,
2011) -Seeking new employment in her area, Jennifer was confident
her last employer would not be a problem reference. While she hadn't
“parted company” with them on particularly good terms, her
understanding was that all they would be allowed to divulge to a
prospective employer were her title and employment dates. Anything
beyond that would be illegal.
Jennifer discovered the hard way that references
can - and very frequently do - offer more input than simply
confirming employment dates and titles. After almost a year of job
searching, Jennifer learned to her dismay that her last employer was
giving her a mediocre-to-poor rating to prospective employers. She
ultimately relocated, as all the local employers in her field of
expertise had turned her down.
Where did Jennifer
go wrong here? What could she have done differently, in hindsight?
First, she assumed
that it was illegal for her former employer to offer negative
input about her. While legal and/or corporate
guidelines may indeed state that only your employment
dates/titles can be confirmed, it is not necessarily illegal per se
for a reference to give negative commentary about a former employee.
References can - and very frequently do - offer considerably more
commentary to your prospective employer than simply verifying your
employment dates/title. As a result, many job-seeking candidates like
Jennifer who expected a favorable (or at least neutral) assessment
from their references unknowingly lose out on employment
opportunities that are “torpedoed” as a result of a negative
For their own legal
protection, prospective employers will almost never share with a
candidate the fact that a negative reference was received. How, then,
could Jennifer have known that one of her references was offering
negative, perhaps unlawful input about her to a prospective employer?
Even if she had known, how could she have addressed it?
As mentioned above,
negative input a reference offers about you is not wrongful or
unlawful per se. Negative
input may be illegal - some categories include
defamation, retaliation, disparagement or sexual
harassment. Where a third party can document that a
reference's communication was wrongful, inaccurate, malicious
and/or may fall under one of these categories, you may indeed have
the ability - through an attorney - to pursue legal recourse. In
situations where a reference's negative input is or is not unlawful
but is restricting your ability to secure future employment, it can
typically be addressed through the transmittal of a Cease-&-Desist
letter, issued by your attorney to the senior
management of the company where the negative reference originated.
The letter would alert management of the negative reference's
identity and actions. Typically the very act of offering a negative
reference is against corporate guidelines, which normally state that
only a former employee's title/dates of employment can be
confirmed. The negative reference is cautioned by management not to
offer additional comments and - out of self-interest - is
unlikely to offer negative commentary again.
If you're unsure
as to whether a negative reference is impacting your job seeking
efforts, whom can you contact? One option is Allison & Taylor,
a reference checking service in business since 1984. This company
will interview your reference(s) and document their input
word-for-word. Approximately 50% of all reference checks they conduct
uncover negative input from the reference; their report can be used
for legal purposes or for the Cease-&-Desist
letter described above.
Note that a negative
reference is likely to continue offering the same input to every
prospective employer that calls unless you detect it and take steps
to stop it. Like Jennifer, job seekers can lose many opportunities
before they realize what is happening. It's never too early to
identify - and neutralize - a negative job reference in your
About Allison &
& Taylor and its principals have been in the
business of checking references for corporations and individuals
since 1984. Allison
& Taylor is headquartered in Rochester, Mich. For
further details on services and procedures please visit
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