by Kelly Mulloy Myers, Lawyer Referral Service Panelist
An employer can lawfully give an employee a negative or poor job reference if it is truthful. If an employer gives untruthful information about your employment or separation, the former employer may be liable for defamation. Many companies have internal policies that restrict the information they will disclose in a reference check. However, many employers will release whether or not the separation was voluntary and whether or not the employee is eligible for re-hire. If you are terminated, ask what the policy is with respect to references. It is also helpful to ask former supervisors and co-workers if they are willing to serve as a personal reference. If you are concerned your former employer is giving you a bad reference, an attorney may be able to negotiate an agreement with the company to provide nothing more than neutral information.