One of the questions job seekers often ask is “What can an employer say about former employees?” Some job seekers believe companies can only legally release dates of employment, salary, and your job title. However, that’s not the case.

Can an employer say a former employee was fired or terminated for cause? How about saying that you quit without notice, were frequently tardy, or performed poorly on the job? Are there limits to what an employer can say about you?

What Former Employers Can – and Can’t – Say About You

There are no federal laws restricting what information an employer can – or cannot – disclose about former employees. And while most states have laws about what employers can legally disclose, and to whom, many do allow employers to share details about job performance, responsibilities, and professional conduct. Check your state labor department website for information on state labor laws that limit what employers can disclose about former employees.

If you were fired or terminated from employment, the company can say so. They can also give a reason. For example, if someone was fired for stealing or falsifying a timesheet, they can explain why the employee was terminated. Depending on state laws, employers may also be able to share general feedback on your performance.

That said, because of defamation laws (which is slander or libel) companies are usually careful about what information they provide to hiring managers confirming employment or checking references. What they say has to be the truth or the company can be subject to a lawsuit from the former employee. Legally, a former employer can say anything that is factual and accurate.

How to Check on What the Company Will Disclose

If you have been fired or terminated, check with your former employer and ask what information they will give out when they get a call to verify your work history. For background, it may be helpful to review questions commonly asked during reference checks. If your former employer does give out more information than the basics, it doesn’t hurt to try to negotiate the additional details they share. It certainly can’t hurt to ask!

If you left under difficult circumstances, you could ask someone you know to call and check your references, that way you’ll know what information is going to come out. Or, you can also use a reference checking service to check on what will be disclosed to future employers.
Getting the Story Straight

It’s important that your story and your former employer’s story match. If you say you were laid-off and the company says you fired, you’re not going to get the job. Misrepresenting your job title or employment dates is a red flag for a potential employer too, and could result in you not getting the job.

Also, not telling the truth during the application process can get you fired at any time in the future – even years after you were hired. That’s because most job applications have a section where you verify the information is accurate.

Don’t Presume the Company Won’t Disclose Information

Don’t presume that your former employer won’t disclose the reason why your job ended. Large companies typically have policies regarding the disclosure of former employee information, but may not. Many smaller employers don’t have a policy at all or aren’t aware of or concerned about legal liability issues.

In either case, it’s important to know what the employer is going to say about you because what you say needs to match what the company is going to say.
If your version doesn’t match theirs and you feel the company’s story about your termination isn’t accurate, be upfront and say so. You’ll have a better chance of getting the job than if you say one thing and the company says another.
Finally, if you anticipate a negative reference from a former employer, share additional references. If you didn’t get along with your manager, for instance, provide a peer as a reference as well. Or, provide reference options from jobs earlier in your career. One negative reference will seem less meaningful if there are many positive references available as well.
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