Help! My Old Employer Keeps Giving Me Bad References

Dear J.T. & Dale: My former supervisor of many years keeps giving negative references to any employers who call to inquire about me. I confirmed this by having friends pose as hiring managers who were conducting background checks.

I’m not willing to falsify the name of the supervisor on job applications, even though I am always disqualified during the reference check. Why should this one supervisor have the power to block all my employment attempts? – Carlo

J.T.: Is what this former supervisor is saying about you accurate? If the reference is accurate, he is within his rights.

If it’s not accurate, there are plenty of laws against slanderous references, enough so that most companies have formal policies that allow supervisors only to confirm dates of employment.

If the supervisor is giving an inaccurate reference that is costing you jobs, you should seek the help of an employment attorney, who can send a “cease and desist” letter to the company and supervisor.

DALE: I know the legal solution has its appeal, and even seems like a final solution, but imagine a potential employer calling the supervisor and hearing, “I can’t give you a reference because I got a letter threatening to sue me if I talk to you.” That might be worse than the negative reference.

J.T.: In either case, the best defense is to go on the offensive. Tell a potential employer before they contact this reference that you know it will be negative.

Explain as best you can what happened and, if you did something wrong, what you learned and how you have grown as an employee since that experience.

DALE: Meanwhile, line up many other references. Try to include ones from the same employer as your negative supervisor, ones willing to defend you and possibly willing to undermine the credibility of that one supervisor.

That way, when an employer calls and hears something negative, they will discount it, and perhaps give you credit for being forthright and honest.

Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale via e-mail at or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

© 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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