Can You Sue Your Former Boss For a Bad Reference?

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WorkingYou have left a job on not-so-great terms, mostly not due to your inability to do the job. Maybe you and your boss just didn’t click. But what happens when your former boss gives you such a horrible reference that it hinders your chances of getting another job???

First, do some company research. “Find out if your former company has a policy regarding references. Many companies nowadays prevent current employees from serving as references so as to avoid potential litigation,” says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.” “If the reference–even a good one–can be shown to have eliminated you from consideration as a candidate for a job, you may have a legitimate lawsuit. When feedback is inflammatory and untrue, and you know for certain that your former boss is behind the gossip, contact the HR rep immediately. Remind him of the company policy and that you have proof that your boss has violated that policy; that his actions have led to your losing out on an opportunity. Ask what steps will be taken and when. You may also benefit by speaking to an employment attorney.” ??

If this has happened to you, you need to carefully analyze the situation and your options. “First and foremost, you have to be able to prove that your reputation was maligned. That is not so simple,” Cohen points out. “Whoever received the negative feedback needs to be willing to acknowledge that they had the conversation with your former boss. They also need to be willing to admit that they were influenced by that information in making a decision to reject you as a candidate.”??

But if you have been slandered, are certain about it, and want to take action, “arrange for an employment attorney to send the HR head and your boss a warning letter,” says Cohen.??

Should you confront your former boss? “If your former boss is capable of spreading nasty rumors about you it is likely that he will be equally dishonest when confronted. So, confronting him may accomplish little, if anything. On the other hand, he may actually believe that the information he has shared is accurate and truthful. If so, you may both benefit by having a calm, reasonable conversation. Be open to the possibility that some of the feedback is legitimate,” says Cohen.??

Can you make sure potential employers don’t believe the slanderous reference? “Set the stage so that any negative feedback received will be evaluated in context,” advises Cohen. “You can do that by sharing the details in advance and by making sure that you present a rational, balanced explanation. Never wait for the hiring manager to ask. Transparency is key. If there is any impression that you are hiding something messy or that you are not accepting some responsibility for the separation–even if it is simply to express your disappointment that the event happened or that you didn’t see the writing on the wall–you will be viewed with skepticism and as a potential problem to be avoided.”

(CLICK HERE for a related article about workplace issues.)