One of the questions I get asked frequently is "What can an employer say about former employees?" Some job seekers presume that 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 or your attendance record wasn't good? Are there limits to what an employer can say about you?
What Former Employers Can Say About You
There are no federal laws restricting what information an employer 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 time sheet, they can explain why the employee was terminated.
That said, because of laws regarding defamation (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, they can say anything that is factual and accurate.
Concern about lawsuits is why most employers only confirm dates of employment, your position, and salary.
State labor laws vary, so check your state labor department website for information on state labor laws that limit what employers can disclose about former employees.
Checking 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. If they do give out more information than the basics, what they say may be negotiable and it can't hurt to ask.
When 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.
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 Give Out 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.
Finally, 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.
Reference Checking Resources