Can An Employer Give a Bad Reference?


can an employer give a bad reference

Getting hired is a tedious process that is comprised of numerous steps and checks that are all equally important.

One of those steps is providing references and having a possible employer check said references.

For the best outcome, it’s wise to give references that would have good things to say about you.

However, some people may have ulterior motives or not have thought as highly of you as you assumed.

But can an employer give a bad reference? Is it illegal for them to give a bad reference? What can your former employers say about you, and can this information be used against you?

Find out the answers to these questions and more below.

Is It Illegal To Give a Bad Job Reference?

can a bad reference cost you a job

While a bad job reference can harm your chances of getting hired, they’re not usually illegal to give.

Currently, there are no state or Federal laws that prevent your past employers or anyone else from giving you a bad reference.

However, should a former employer or someone else give a reference that is untrue, they may face liability.

While many states have legislation in place that provides employers with immunity when providing a reference in good faith, they can still face a lawsuit if they provide a reference in poor faith, such as stating untruthful information about an employee.

In some cases, the employer may also have a bias against the employee, such as race, sex, or sexual orientation bias.  In cases like this, a lawsuit may be filed if there is reasonable proof that the reference was given in bad faith, or under bias. This is often very difficult to prove in court.

Can Your Former Employer Say Bad Things About You?

thinking person

As mentioned above, there are certain cases where your employer is absolutely allowed to give a bad reference. Your former employer is allowed to give such if all the statements made are factual.

For instance, if you often showed up late for work, and often were rude, or fought with customers, your former employer is allowed to tell a potential employer that you are violent, disrespectful, and rude. These would be factual statements, even if they are bad statements.

Should your employer gossip about you, provide statements that are false, or go over the line in some other way that would constitute abuse or slander, you may have a lawsuit against them.

However, this is rare, as most bad references are earned and are often softened by your previous employer in good faith and kindness.  The best way to avoid bad references is to put in good work and to end your previous employment as cordially as possible.

Can An Employer Tell Another Employer Not To Hire You?

toxic boss

If you ended your employment on bad terms, it’s understandable that you’d be concerned about what kind of reference your former boss could give a potential employer. This concern is valid, as your former employer could absolutely make it rather difficult for you to find work in the future.

Your previous employer is allowed to provide statements about your work and person in most states, and as long as those statements are truthful, there’s nothing you could do if they’re also unflattering statements.

Your former employer is also allowed to suggest that a future employer not hire you for a variety of reasons, as long as those reasons are valid and true.

If you have earned a bad reference, and don’t want this reference to ruin your chances of future employment, it’s best to leave it off your resume altogether and choose better candidates to provide as references. Doing your best and ending your employment in a respectful manner is always the best way to avoid bad references. 

What To Do If My Former Employer Gives Me A Bad Reference?

thinking person

Bad references happen, and it’s how you deal with them that could make all of the difference. Correcting a negative reference starts before the reference is given. If you’ve ended your former employment after having issues at that workplace, and you know you may receive such a reference, it’s never too late to try and make amends.

Contact your former employer and show humility, apologize for the past, and hope that they’ll give you a better reference because of it. You may also try to contact your hiring manager, explaining your situation, and how you’ve changed.

If all else fails, it’s worth providing other references and asking others for help to back up your good character, despite the negative reference. While a bad reference can severely damage your chances of being hired, it doesn’t eliminate them, especially if you handle things correctly after the fact. We all make mistakes sometimes.


Getting hired requires a lot of patience, and a bit of good luck. Providing your references may be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re likely to get a bad reference. Getting such a reference doesn’t have to be the catastrophic event you think it is, especially if you handle everything properly afterward.

Former employers are allowed to say a lot of things, as long as it’s true. If your former employer gives a bad reference with untrue statements, and you can prove it, it may be worth it to look into a lawsuit.

Bad references may not be the end of the world, but it’s still best to avoid them when you can. Always try to give your best work, and always leave a job on good terms, you just may regret it later if you don’t. 

About the author

ted wilson
Ted Wilson

Ted Wilson is a writer and marketing specialist with over thirteen years of experience. He has worked with clients of all types, including major brands like Bed Bath & Beyond. He has years of experience writing for career management and education websites and often tells clients seeking to advance their career that passion and consistency are key.

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