7 Ways HR Gives Bad Job References without Giving Bad Job References

Have you ever heard the following mantra, it is repeated so often it almost sounds like a truism?

“Former employers direct all reference checks to their Human Resources departments, and those people won’t say anything negative about me.”

Not only does this statement frequently prove untrue, it sometimes misrepresents what HR can – and will – divulge about former employees.

7 Ways HR Can Give a Bad Reference without giving a bad job reference:

  1. Stating that someone is not eligible for rehire, without offering details.
  2. Suggesting that a legal file or similar venue would have to be examined to offer an opinion.
  3. Offering employment dates/title and adding that they don’t wish to discuss the former employee further.
  4. Explicitly offering negative commentary that – depending on the laws of that state – could conceivably be considered as legally legitimate.
  5. Acting surprised / shocked and asking if we are certain they gave this contact as a reference.
  6. Suggesting we check this person’s job references very carefully
  7. Offering commentary in a tone of voice indicating hesitancy, guarded remarks, or otherwise implying unrevealed negativity.

Here’s How HR Can Give a Good Reference without Giving a Good Reference:

  1. We really miss xxx – wish he / she would return.

The Truth:

Most Human Resources professionals will follow proper protocol in confirming employment  dates and title (only). However, in addition to WHAT is said, reference checkers also evaluate HOW something is said. In other words, they listen to tone of voice and note the HR staffer’s willingness to respond to their questions.  Both are critical factors in reference checks – how will your employment be reflected in their responses?

Note there are no federal laws that address what an employer can – or cannot say – about a former employee. As mentioned above, some states allow “qualified immunity” to employer commentary provided it is considered truthful and unbiased.

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