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Is it slander for a former employer to give me a bad reference?

You've probably heard someone say that employers can't give bad references because they are afraid that they will be sued for them, or that employers can only verify employment dates, not job performance. That isn't true.

There's not a single federal or state law that prevents employers from giving negative references, as long as the things they say are truthful. There are also no existing laws that say former employers have to give any reference at all-so instead of saying something negative, they could simply refuse to return calls from prospective employers. In addition, many states give employers immunity fromslander and libel lawsuits related to truthful references.

So what can you do to ensure a previous employer with an axe to grind won't jeopardize your career in the future?

  • Ask them. Some employers will tell you what they are going to say to potential new employers. Before you leave, ask your boss if he or she will say you are eligible for rehire.
  • Put it in writing. You can negotiate neutral references in your severance agreement.
  • Check your contract. Often, union contracts include a provision stating employers may only give out employment dates and job titles.
  • Check the employee handbook. Many employers have a neutral reference policy. If your former employer is violating that policy, you can report it to your former supervisor or the HR department.
  • Hire a reference-checking company. There are companies that will call your previous employers and check references for you to find out if an employer is saying something untrue.

If you have been the target of workplace harassment, discrimination or unfair termination, Bouchillon, Crossan & Colburn, L.C. represents clients in federal court and before the EEOC, MSPB and in state and union grievance hearings.

Our attorneys have more than 35 years dedicated to giving clients the attention, advice, support and empowerment they need to effectively meet their goals. We are committed to the principle that all persons shall have equal justice under the law. Call Bouchillon, Crossan & Colburn, L.C. at 304.523.8451 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.

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