Q&A: Bad References from Past Employers

More on this topic: Q&A: Bad Reference Keeping Employers Away


I found out that store where I used to work is giving me a bad reference, and I actually didn’t get a job because of it. Should I exclude that job from my resume since I know they are going to give a bad reference?


There are two different types of references used in the hiring process.

  1. Personal and professional references that you chose to give a prospective employer.
  2. Employment verification from past employers listed on your resume and application.

When a prospective employer calls your past employers to get an employment verification, the only information your former employers are legally allowed to give is:

  1. Your dates of employment
  2. Your job title
  3. Your rehire status

Rehire status is a “yes or no” question – If you re-applied, could the past employer hire you again? If the answer is no, your former employer cannot say why they would not hire you again, only if you are eligible for rehire with that company.

If a former employer that you have not listed as one of your personal references, is giving more information that legally allowed (without your signed authorization), there are a few things you can do to stop this.

  • First, have one of your friends call the employer, posing as a prospective employer, and ask for a reference for you. Your friend can report back to you exactly what your former employer is saying about you, and which manager he/she spoke to. Knowing exactly what was said and who said it will help you to decide what to do next.
  • Second, call the HR person or your former manager to tell him/her that you are aware that someone at the company has given you a bad reference. Remind the employer that it is against the law to give out information other than your dates of employment, job title and a “yes” or “no” response to your rehire status.

    Employers are people, too. And some managers, especially those working for small companies, are not aware of the impact of the employment verification. Maybe a specific manager has a bone to pick with you, but overall your reputation with the company is good. Or maybe the former employer is upset that you quit because you were such a good employee.

    Whatever the reason, remind past employers that giving their opinion of you to other companies is against the law.

  • If a phone warning is not enough, put your concerns in a letter addressed to your former manager, that person’s supervisor and the human resources department of the company.

Even though giving a bad reference in this case is illegal, taking legal action or suing the company is usually not worth the effort. The time and energy needed to prove that the past employer purposely tried to harm you is time and energy better spent on finding your next job.

Also from DeniseMpls:

9 thoughts on “Q&A: Bad References from Past Employers

  1. Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of
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  3. Slanderous References:
    I received a ton of advice which got me nothing. Finally, I was referred to (a website). My case was in the Irish courts, but their report proved I was being slandered by my former supervisor. Now that it’s all over, I can openly tell you that government agencies were a complete waste of time.

    1. Jane, I’m glad your case worked out!

      It looks like the website you used charges money to do what people can do themselves — call former employers, landlords, etc. and document what they say about you.

      Finding out exactly what is being said about you and accurately recording it is a good first step when you think you a past employer is saying bad things.

      You need that documentation in order to prove slander in courts. But most cases don’t need to go that far — just let the employer know that you have proof of what they are saying and most will stop doing it.

  4. Hi, I enjoy your website. This is a good site and I wanted to post a comment to let you know, great job! Thanks MiMi

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