What Can Former Employers Say About Me?
A standard question on most job applications, many companies want to know if they can contact your former employer. The question is easy to answer if you left on good terms, but it can get sticky if you were fired or had conflicts with a supervisor. Whether you left on great terms or less than favorable conditions, you should know what can and cannot be said about you as part of a background check.
Policies are not Law
It’s important to know that the policy of a company may be above and beyond what is legally required. While your former employer can share quite a bit of information about you, most choose not to. In an attempt to avoid liability and lawsuits, most companies have strict guidelines concerning the information they share about former employees. This includes dates of employment, positions held and pay rates. However, companies can legally say a lot more than that if they wish to.
Factual and Accurate
The bottom line is that your former boss can say anything about you. The only legal limitations are that the information must be factual and accurate. If a former employer states that you didn’t seem to work up to your potential, that could be construed as slander and result in a lawsuit. However, an employer can safely state that you were late on a daily basis if that is true and accurate. They can legally say that you were fired, and they can state the reason for your termination.
While the federal government does not have laws in place limiting what information can be shared, some states do have laws providing employees with more protection. Texas, for example, specifically prohibits employers from blacklisting people and preventing them working in the field. Learn about the laws in your state by contacting your local labor department.
Privacy is Protected
While a former employer can talk about your work habits and general quality of work, they cannot share information unrelated to the employment. This is an invasion of privacy and can be viewed as an intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Discovering the Ugly Truth
Most potential employers will not tell you that they received negative information on a reference check. You will just receive a polite letter informing you they “went in another direction.” Don’t take chances on missing opportunities because of what a former employer has to say. Confirm the information yourself to be prepared.
Confirm the Information
If you have any concerns regarding the information shared about you, then you might want to find out what is being said. Have a friend call the company and ask for a reference. It’s a fast and easy way to find out what information is provided when potential employers call. If you aren’t comfortable having a friend do this, then hire a reference checking service to uncover the information. However, you must not make assumptions about the information being given out. Protect yourself by taking the time to confirm it.
It is vital that the information you give matches what your former employer says. If you state that you quit for a better opportunity, then you will not get the new job if their records show that you were terminated for stealing. If the information they share about you is factual, then you should be upfront with prospective employers and try to explain a potentially negative situation.
Addressing Negative References
If a party is sharing damaging information about you, then there may be some recourse open to you. If the information is preventing you from finding employment, then an attorney can assist you. Sending a Cease-and-Desist letter, they contact senior management and caution them that they are not to offer comments which are harmful to you. Most companies will comply with the request to avoid the hassle of a lawsuit, even if the information is not actually illegal.
Before starting your job search, you should take the time to find out what a former employer is going to say about you. Hiring a reference checking service or enlisting the help of a friend, uncover what information they are going to share. This will allow you to either confidently give a potential employer permission to make contact, or you can take the steps necessary to have a problem corrected.