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Is Your Former Employer Tarnishing Your Reputation in the Hiring Process?

You know things didn't work out in your last position, but is it possible your former boss is more miffed at you than you realized?

You quit your last job because it wasn’t a great fit.

You’ve had several successful interviews in searching for new employment and even made the final round before hiring a few times. But each time the hiring manager calls your previous employers, you’re suddenly out of the running for the job.

You know things didn’t work out in your last position, but is it possible your former boss is more miffed at you than you realized?

Could they be slandering your name or giving you a reference that paints you in less than a positive light?

What Can a Former Employer Say About You?

First, let’s consider what happens if you weren’t successful in your previous role. What can this past employer say about you to hiring managers?

According to Bouchillon Crossan & Colburn, L.C., employers can say anything they like, as long as it’s truthful. They can’t lie about your job performance, but if you were lackluster in your past role, they don’t have to hide it. 

Alternatively, they could decide not to serve as a reference at all, simply ignoring calls and emails from hiring managers to speak about you. This may also be hindering your ability to land a job.

It is also difficult to prove that a former employer is slandering you unless you can prove that they are speaking maliciously about you. For instance, if they tell a hiring manager that you were unenthusiastic about taking on new projects, and you were, you’ll have a hard time proving your case. 

However, if your former employer tarnishes your reputation with lies, and you can prove it, you could potentially win a defamation lawsuit against them.

“In a case earlier this year, Hampton Securities Limited v Dean, an employee received $25,000 in damages for defamation after her employer reported to her regulatory body that she had been terminated for, amongst other reasons, unauthorized trading. The Court found that the accusation had a devastating impact on the employee and was indefensible,” explains Millard & Company LLP.

Certainly, recourse is available to you if your employer makes false statements.

Removing a Former Employer as a Reference

Could you say “no” when you’re applying for a job and ask if they could contact your previous employer?

 Indeed, you could say “no” to contacting a current employer, as hiring managers are usually aware that companies aren’t always aware when their employees seek employment elsewhere. 

However, saying “no” to previous employers is likely to be viewed unfavorably. This isn’t an alternative if you’re worried about what an employer is saying about you, at least not until you’ve exhausted your other options. 

“There really aren’t any valid reasons for saying no to companies you’re no longer working for. This is almost always a red flag as they would think you were let go for some negative reason,” Zippia explains.

So, it’s time to do your research if you’re concerned that your former employer is speaking negatively about you.

How to Tell if a Former Employer Is Tarnishing Your Reputation

If you suspect your former employer is saying negative things about you, what can you do to discover the truth? 

Here are some ideas:

Review your contract and the employee handbook to determine what former employers can say about you.

If you’re unsure what a former employer can say about you, turn to your employee handbook first. Some employers say they won’t review former employers positively or negatively; it’s a policy the company has reported to withhold.

So, if someone is violating that policy, you can report it to your former supervisor or HR.

Ask what HR would say about you – or ask a friend or family member to help.

You can also check what is being said about you by posing as a company and checking your references. This won’t always work because some organizations will ask what company you’re calling from or ask for the request in writing. 

If not, however, you could ask similar questions that an employer would ask, clearly indicating what they’re saying about you to others. 

Hire someone to check your references.

You can also hire a reference-checking company to see what a former employer says about you. One such organization, Allison & Taylor, calls and tells their clients’ former employers that they are doing an employment and reference check. 

In this work, the reference-checking firm has discovered that many people believe former employers are giving them better references than they are; about half of the reference evaluations they complete,find that organizations rate former employees as “mediocre to downright negative.

However, Allison & Taylor also discover an almost equal number of people who think they’re getting bad reviews are getting good ones. So, what if the employer you thought was speaking negatively about you is singing your praises? 

Dealing with a Negative Reference

It can be challenging to worry that you’re not getting hired because a previous employer is tarnishing your reputation. But don’t come out guns blazing if you’re not sure an employer reference is why you’re not landing the job. There are many other reasons you might not be getting hired, ranging from factors you can control to those you can’t. 

If you discover that a past employer isn’t speaking as favorably about you as you predicted, determine if they’re saying anything about you that can be proven untrue. If this is the case, you may decide to sue for defamation.

If you didn’t perform at your best in a past role, consider it worth leaving the employer off your references list or even answering “no” when asked, “can we contact this employer?” Then, you can explain your unsuccessful tenure at the company in your cover letter or during the interview rather than taking your chances on another bad reference check.

Additional: How to Convince A Hiring Manager That You Are The Best Candidate


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