There seems to be one (or more) in every workplace: the “over-sharer” or unregulated speaker. This is the person who has not quite mastered the “think before you speak” philosophy, who has yet to realize that “loose lips sink ships.”

In the professional world, this behavior often manifests itself in the workplace as an inappropriate joke, sharing too much personal information or leaking confidential company data. And while this person can be a challenge to work with on a day to day basis, they can be downright catastrophic as a reference, providing much more information than is warranted or requested (or prudent) to a potential employer.

With 30 years as a reference checking and reference consulting company, JobReferences has heard it all: discrimination in many forms, references explaining the relationships/sleeping habits of former employees, HR Managers refusing to comment until the “litigation is complete” and Board Members who say “Are you sure he listed me as a reference?”

If you are considering or in the midst of a career change, and suspect that someone may provide negative input as a reference, take the proactive step of a reference check… before the office “over-sharer” has a chance to torpedo your chances of landing that great new job. Professional reference checking may have one or more objectives, e.g. damage control, name clearing, warning the former employer that the employee is in the marketplace [the sanguine employer realizing it does have a duty to mitigate both its and its former employee’s damages], extending the opportunity to the former employer to aid the former employee in securing employment so the former employee can discontinue unemployment compensation chargeable to the employer, etc.

Professional reference checking firm JobReferences offers three common reference scenarios where references offer too much information, and what can be done:

Scenario #1- An employer calls for information on you, a job applicant aged 40+. In the course of the discussion, the reference makes a comment such as “Well, we both know that this industry is a young man’s game- he’s a good worker, but I don’t know how long he’ll stick around- he is 52 years old, after all.”

What can be done: Age Discrimination as defined by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, relates to individuals 40 years of age or older who have been discriminated against based on their age. These kinds of age-related comments might be considered discriminatory. Depending on the nature of the comment, you may have legal recourse, and a professional reference check from JobReferences is admissible in court.

Scenario #2- After a wrongful termination, a former boss is divulging specific details of your exit from the company. “I fired her. She was stealing from the company.”

What can be done: If your reference is discussing elements of your termination, they are walking a very thin line legally by providing details. If a wrongful termination is established, an employee then has the right to sue his/her former employer for damages.

Scenarios #3– Perhaps due to professional jealousies, a reference provides an unflattering, and untrue picture of your abilities. “Totally inept- he could not do anything correctly in the position he held with us”.

What can be done: There is a very good chance that this type of commentary is prohibited by company policy, and for good reason. Many times a simple Cease and Desist letter will be enough to put an end to these statements.

These scenarios and many others are unfortunately more common than the job seeker might imagine; Allison & Taylor estimates that 50% of their references can be categorized as “lukewarm” or “negative”.

Don’t allow yourself to be surprised and sabotaged by an unfavorable reference. A simple reference check, conducted by a professional agency such as Allison & Taylor, can tell you definitively whether a reference is providing a positive, professional response to inquiries made about you. If they are not, you can take proactive steps to prevent this continued spread of negative information, and you may even have legal recourse.

To find out more about reference checking, please visit

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.