Help: My former employer is giving me a bad reference!

By Brent Buchsbaum

It’s one thing to get laid off or fired from a job, but the harm caused by this event is only compounded if your former employer is giving you a bad reference as well. After months of submitting job applications, you finally get a job interview and you nail it. The prospective employer says that you seem like a perfect fit and that you’ll be hired assuming “the references check out.”  Yet, you never hear back from the job and they won’t tell you why the position wasn’t offered.

Unfortunately, according to California Civil Code §47c, your former employer has the privilege to provide information about you to a potential new employer, including whether they would rehire you. In other words, the employer is protected from a lawsuit, so long as the information provided is not false, reckless or intended to deliberately cause harm to you. 

However, if your former employer makes misrepresentations to a potential employer for the purpose of preventing you from getting a new job, that is a violation of Labor §1050, and they could be liable for a criminal misdemeanor.  

The truth, however, is that most employers are wary of providing any reference at all.   Employers are in a Catch-22.  On one hand, if they fired an employee, they are going to be hesitant to say anything bad about that employee to a potential employer out of fear of being sued.   Similarly, if an employer let an employee go for not being a good worker, they will be hesitant to provide even a minimally helpful reference, because they could potentially be sued by the new employer for misrepresentation.  The solution—particularly with large employers—is to institute a 1-800 number that only confirms dates of employment and title, but nothing else.

Carlin & Buchsbaum employment law advice:  If you are getting rejected from job after job, when you were on the verge of getting hired, it is likely that you are getting a bad reference from a former employer.  To find out if this is happening to you, have a friend pose as a business that is considering hiring you and call your former employers.  If you learn that harmful things are being said, you may then need a lawyer to put a stop to the damage.

Carlin and Buchsbaum are employee rights lawyers in Long Beach, California. Our hiring discrimination lawyers specialize in employment law and discrimination in the workplace. Please contact your Carlin & Buchsbaum Long Beach hiring discrimination attorney with any questions.