When you are looking for a job, a hiring manager is usually the person responsible for verifying whether the information on your resume and job application is true or false. To do so, the hiring manager will contact your previous employers to ask questions about your employment history, character and work ethics. The information the previous employer discloses to a hiring manager can cause you to miss job opportunities. From a legal perspective, there is very little information former employers are not allowed to disclose.
What Can Be Said
Your previous employer is legally allowed to answer questions from a prospective employer who is considering hiring you. For instance, the former employer can speak of your work ethics, attendance habits, job skill, personality and character. He can also disclose the reason you are no longer employed with the company. One main question a prospective employer will ask is whether or not you are eligible for rehire. If the former employer says “No,” it may influence the prospective employer's decision.
What Can't Be Said
Anything the former employer says about you must be true and accurate. It is illegal for him to make false accusations about your character and work history. This can be comforting to know, especially if he has a personal vendetta against you. Although employers are free to say anything about you, many are reluctant to do so for fear of being confronted with a disparagement lawsuit. To protect themselves, many companies have a policy in place that allows them to confirm only your dates of employment, job title and salary history.
Determine What's Being Said
If you are consistently being turned down for job opportunities, there is a strong possibility that your former employer is giving you a bad reference. Hiring managers may not tell you their reasons for not hiring you. The only way to know if the former employer is giving you a bad reference is to proactively investigate the matter yourself. The easiest way to do this is by getting a friend or family member to pose as a prospective employer. Get your friend to call the former employer to ask questions about you. Be sure the friend makes a note of everything that is disclosed.
If it is determined that the former employer is giving you a negative reference, you are not powerless. One way to counteract these negative reviews is by omitting the employer from your work history or references list. If you absolutely must list the job in your work history, try using another co-worker as a reference. Perhaps there is a supervisor who will give you a favorable review. Be sure to speak with the individual before listing him as a reference. Another option is to have an employment attorney submit a “cease and desist” letter to the former employer. This letter prohibits the former employer from releasing any information other than your job title and dates of employment.