Job seekers have recourse even when negative input about their past performance is lawful.

Many job seekers are aware that when a former employer offers negative input about them, such commentary can be illegal. Some examples include discrimination, defamation of character, and wrongful discharge. But what happens when their negative commentary isn’t illegal according to state or Federal law? Does this leave the job seeker without recourse, doomed to endless unemployment due to a key reference who can’t be removed from a prospective employer’s “radar”?

Fortunately, the answer is an emphatic “no”. However, the first step is to ensure that a reference(s) is indeed problematic by utilizing a professional reference-checking firm to document both the verbal input and the tone of voice being offered by your reference. Once a problem reference has been confirmed, the reference-checking firm can identify an employment attorney well versed in assessing possible legal options. Foremost among these – particularly when the negative input does not constitute a violation of state or Federal law – is a “Cease & Desist” letter. Such letters are typically sent by attorneys to the CEO or senior management of the firm where the negative reference is employed, identifying the negative reference by name and the fact that the reference has been documented as offering negative input about the job seeker. The letter also suggests that if the reference-giver continues to offer such negative input, legal action would be contemplated against the firm. reports that while approximately half of all reference checks they conduct reveal negative input from the reference, most Cease & Desist cases generated from these negative reference checks invariably reflect a favorable outcome. The reason: given a choice between addressing possible legal action against their company, or the alternative of discouraging an employee who violated corporate policy (which typically states that employees will either refer any reference requests to Human Resources, or will only confirm employment dates/title) from ever doing so again, the CEO invariably chooses the latter course.

Further, conducts an automatic “re-do” of their reference checks as part of their Cease & Desist offering. They advise that the number of previously negative references who continue to offer unfavorable input the second time around is miniscule. Instead, the references offer a “neutral” reference (confirmation of dates/title only or referring callers to Human Resources where such input is offered) that will not be problematic for job seekers.

So, the story can – and usually does – have a happy ending. Be sure that you know what your key references are saying about you, and – if it’s less than flattering – take the steps above to ensure that a poor reference won’t cost you future employment opportunities.

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About Allison

Allison & Taylor Inc. and its principals have been in the business of checking references for individuals and corporate accounts since 1984. We have successfully built our brand and corporate recognition and have been recommended by industry specialists such as The New York Times award-winning author Martin Yate (“Knock ‘Em Dead Résumés”). Numerous articles have been published about our business in newspapers and magazines including The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, Glamour Magazine, New Woman, Worth, National Business Employment Weekly, The Detroit News, and The St. Petersburg Times.