My Former Employer Is Giving Me a Bad Reference

Monster member Brighton asks: I knew it! Recently, I had my recruiter call up my former employer to see if they would say more than just my name, title and dates of employment. After some gentle coaxing, my former employer gave a rather candid account of my work there. What are my options? Can I sue my former employer? Can I sue both the employer and the HR representative? How can I do this? What are the future repercussions of suing your former employer?

The Employee Advocate answers: References fall into the area of defamation, which includes saying things that are untrue about you, giving information that tends to malign your character or painting you in a false light. Truth is not considered defamation. Neither is an honest opinion based in truth. Defamation comes from being reckless about what is said or from ill will against the person being defamed.

It is hard to know what exactly your former boss was saying, so I could not know whether it falls into something defamatory. If it is factually untrue, then you have a case. If it is an opinion, then the question is a closer one. You can consult a lawyer with the statements to see if you do have a case.

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Is it necessary to give this former boss's name as a reference?
  • Is it possible to give two or three good references for every negative reference?

If you can get many good references, especially from people you have worked with or from former supervisors, you will be able to offset the bad reference from this former boss.

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