Workplace Rights

Weekly (4/8/14)

Topic of the Week  Blacklisted


  • Get a reference in advice.
  • Work around a bad reference.
  • Hire a reference check service.
  • Understand defamation. 

Blacklisted: Is a Former Employer Out to Get You?

Does this sound familiar? You keep getting turned down for jobs in your industry. Suddenly you start to wonder, is this a coincidence or are potential employers scared off because a former employer is saying bad things about me? Unfortunately, blacklisting can and does happen. Which reminds me the an old saying, "You're not paranoid if they really are out to get you."

Paranoid or blacklisted, it's often difficult to sort out what is really happening. But let's start with the law. The Supreme Court in Robinson v. Shell Oil Company (1997) has held that employees can sue employers for retaliatory negative job references under the civil rights act. That sounds like great news to someone who thinks they're being blacklisted, but most of us are loath to sue a former employer. That's why I'll start with strategies to prevent the problem of a bad reference in the first place and then explore what you can do if you think you're being blacklisted.

Get a reference in advice. I know a lot of people who negotiated a letter of reference with their employer before they were let go. This can save everyone involved a lot of hassle and legal fees. The good news is that you may actually get to contribute to what the company actually says about you to potential employers.

Work around a bad reference. If you are sure that a boss will trash you in a reference, you can sometimes avoid the problem by going to another manager, a vendor or even a customer for a recommendation. This won't prevent the company from contacting your boss directly, but enough employers can be lazy in the hiring process that this may eliminate the problem.

Hire a reference check service. There are a variety of services on the Internet that will contact a former employers of yours to ask for a reference. They basically pretend that they'll be hiring you. Then they share the information that they receive directly with you. You'll have to pay for this service, but most of the prices that I saw listed on the Internet were very reasonable. Unfortunately this service can't find out if you are a victim of an "underground reference." That's when a former employer talks badly about you at professional associations or with vendors.

Understand defamation. A defamation claim is not about challenging whether or not you should have been let go. No this is about your reference. One expert called it a way of getting "monetary revenge on the employer who is sloppy, insensitive or downright mean." If you think a past employer is not telling the truth about you, contact an employment lawyer. Most will give you a free half hour consultation and sales pitch.

Talk to most employers and they'll tell you that they only give name, job title and dates of employment when asked for a reference. Talk to many job seekers and they believe that they're being blacklisted. As in so many things, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

Thought of the Week

""There's always some kind of blacklist throughout history. But the difference is, in America they usually let you live.""

–Rip Torn

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Blog of the Week

Top Five News Headlines

    List of the Week


    Using Unemployment Time Well: A Survey of Hiring Managers

    • Take a temporary or contract assignment, 79%
    • Take a class, 61%
    • Volunteer, 60%
    • Start your own business, 28%
    • Start a professional blog, 11%



    Weekly: Archive

    Select a date from the list below.

















    ©2022 The Law Office of Bartina Edwards, All Rights Reserved