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Former employers who provide negative or unenthusiastic references can damage your chances of getting a new job. While you typically provide references whom you know will talk about you in a positive manner, a future employer may take it upon himself to call your former employers and ask about your job performance. In some occupations, such as commercial driver, federal law mandates that employers contact every employer from the last 3 years to verify employment. Knowing beforehand what a former employer will say can help you to mitigate any damage, by explaining to your future employer why your former one may not speak well of you.
Call your reference. If you have concerns that your employer will recognize your voice, ask a friend to call or hire a reference-checking company that will call former employers and landlords. These companies provide their services for a fee, but they typically know the right questions to ask to receive the most information.
Ask to speak to someone regarding a job reference. Large companies typically have one person to provide references to prevent someone unaware of company policies from providing too much information.
Ask for a work reference on yourself. Do not use your name when asking for the reference; pose as a possible future employer.
Listen to the replies and do not get angry over negative information. Since you are posing as someone else, you cannot take negative information personally.
Keep a list of former employers who provide positive information about your work habits. Use these employers as references on future work applications.
There are no federal laws governing the information that former employers provide -- other than that the information must be true. State laws regarding information vary. Call your state’s labor department to determine the laws where you live. Ask former employers for a letter of recommendation. This provides you with the opportunity to discuss negative information with the employer and, possibly, persuade him to omit negative items.
Employers who provide false information about former employees face defamation lawsuits. Employers have the right to ask you to sign a release before they supply any information. This release will prevent your winning a lawsuit, as long as the information the employer provides is accurate. Some employers provide only basic information regarding work history, such as the dates you worked and whether they would rehire you. While taping the conversation can seem like a good ides, state laws vary on the legalities of taping conversations without consent.