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Can My Former Employer Give Me a Bad Reference?


If you’ve spent any time in Corporate America, you’ve probably heard this myth before: leave a job under any circumstances, and the only thing your old boss can tell a prospective employer about you is when you worked at the company and which job title you held. The reality is quite different.

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(Photo Credit: Simon Howden/

“In fact, companies and individuals can say anything they want to in a reference check, as long as it’s true,” writes Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady, at CBS News.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

To avoid a bad reference — or to find out what you’re dealing with, before you get too deep into job interviewing — Lucas suggests:

1. Talking to your boss directly.

Find out the bad news, if any, ahead of time. Lucas suggests doing this as soon as possible after terminating your employment. If his story contains an outright lie, you can remind him that he’s legally required to be honest.

2. Talking to HR.

Legal or not, many HR departments cut out the whole issue of bad references by not giving any at all. This is probably where the myth of “employment dates and job titles only” comes from. Even though human resources can tell stories, good or bad, about your time at the company, to avoid liability issues and to make things easier, they often won’t.

3. Getting someone else to serve as a reference.

Yes, it’s better if you have a recommendation from your old boss. But if you have colleagues or former bosses who’ll stand up for you, use them instead. They can attest to the fact that you’re reliable and good at your job just as well as your former manager.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever received a bad reference from your former employer? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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