Is It Illegal for Former Employers to Give a Bad Employment Reference?

By Coffman Legal, LLC | Posted on Oct 27 2022

When you leave a former workplace, you are most likely going to consider listing them as your prior employer and a future employment reference as you look for a new job. References are very common to include in job applications as they provide your potential future employer with a better understanding of your work history and your professional capabilities.

And while positive and overall encouraging employment references are the norm, past employers may not provide a glowing reference every time.

This can leave you asking a number of questions such as is it legal for a former employer to give you a bad reference? Below we answer a few questions related to bad references and former employers to give you a better understanding of what a bad reference can mean for you.

Can an Ex-Employer Give a Bad Employment Reference?

In general, an employer (current or former) is not prohibited by law from providing a bad reference in relation to an individual. If an employer is contacted for a reference, they may choose to stick to the bare minimum such as confirming that an individual did work for them and the dates they were employed.

But some employers may choose to expand – either in a positive or negative manner. As long as the information provided in the reference is truthful and non-discriminatory, an employer may not be doing anything improper if they elaborate beyond confirming dates of employment, pay rate, and position.

Is it Against the Law for a Former Employer to Give a Bad Reference?

It is not against the law for a former employer to give a bad reference except in certain circumstances. In Ohio specifically, there is a law that provides legal protections to employers.

Section 4113.71 of the Ohio Revised Code provides immunity to employers for job performance information disclosures or references. According to this section, employers are protected from liability in relation to providing references to employees with two exceptions.

Those two exceptions are:

  • An employer cannot provide information that is false or meant to mislead. The information provided cannot be meant “in bad faith, or with malicious purpose.”
  • The information provided in the reference violates employment discrimination laws that relate to age, sex, race, nationality, disability status, etc.

If you have reason to believe that a former employer has provided a bad reference that fits into either of the above exceptions, reach out to a Columbus employment rights lawyer today! We can look over your case and help you decide on the next steps. 

Can an Employer Give You a Bad Reference if You Apply for a New Job if They Do Not Want You to Leave?

For individuals who are job searching while still in their current position, the question of your current employer giving you a bad reference can be important – especially as you look forward to moving on to new work.

As previously discussed, it is not illegal for an employer to give a bad reference with two exceptions in Ohio. If you believe your employer gave a bad reference that is not truthful or violates employment discrimination law to a future potential employer, you will want to consider consulting with an employment rights lawyer.

A lawyer from Coffman Legal, LLC will be able to look at the details of your situation and help to determine if the bad reference is given was false or violates discrimination laws.

What Are My Options if My Last Employer is Giving Me a Bad Reference?

Before escalating to a lawsuit or legal repercussions, there are a few things you can consider doing.

  1. Exclude previous employers from your reference list that you think may provide a bad reference.
  2. If a bad reference is given, consider reaching out to the previous employer to see if the situation can be remedied at all.
  3. Provide an explanation for a bad reference to the potential employer who received the reference.
  4. Contact a Columbus employment rights lawyer to explore other options such as sending a cease and desist letter to the person providing inaccurate information.

Lastly, you do have the option to file a lawsuit against your former employer if they gave a bad reference that was untrue, misleading, or discriminatory.

In these cases, you will typically need to be able to prove that the reference given was false or discriminatory, was published in print and that the statement had a negative impact on you.

If you are unsure about how to approach a bad reference from a former employer, contact our team.

Is There a Legal Way to Find Out if a Specific Former Employer is Giving You a Bad Reference?

If you suspect that a potential employer received a bad reference, you can reach out to them to ask for your file – this may include your job application and any related materials like references.

You can also consider reaching out to the former employer themselves – either on your own or with the assistance of an employment rights lawyer. Through discussions with an employment rights attorney, we can help identify different avenues to determine if a bad reference is being provided.

Speak With a Columbus Employment Rights Lawyer

While in general former employers are not prohibited from providing bad references, there are still situations where an employer may be liable for a bad reference. The use of discriminatory language or misleading or untrue is two exceptions to liability protection afforded to Ohio employers.

If you believe that you have been on the receiving end of unlawful actions or employment retaliation by a former employer, reach out to Coffman Legal, LLC today. You can schedule a free and confidential consultation with an experienced Columbus employment rights lawyer today.

Connect with us over the phone at 614-949-1181 or through our online contact form.

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