Employee Job References

Bad job interview When you are looking for a job, it can be extremely important to have a positive job reference or at least a neutral one. In contrast, a negative reference can make it difficult, if not next to impossible, to find suitable work.

Generally, New Jersey and New York law permit employers to provide job references but do not require them to do so. As a result, it is important to understand your legal rights.

Protection Against Defamation

Although many people believe employers are not allowed to provide negative job references that generally is not true in New Jersey or New York. While ordinarily your former employer cannot defame you, defamation is limited to false statements of fact and does not prohibit opinions or true but negative statements.

Even a false statement of fact in a job reference is not necessarily legally actionable. Rather, employers have a "qualified privilege" that protects them if they make negative job references as long as they do not know the statement is false and did not act in reckless disregard of whether it was true or false. Despite that, at least in New Jersey an employer could be liable if they negligently provided misleading or incomplete information in a job reference.

Neutral Job Reference Policies

Many companies have policies that require them to provide neutral job references. Typically, that means they will provide only your dates of employment, final job title and sometimes with your permission your final salary. This is particularly common for larger companies, but is true for some smaller businesses as well. These policies are usually set forth in an employee handbook or another written policy. Some companies that have neutral reference policies permit supervisors to provide individual job references, but others do not.

Of course, many businesses have different policies or requirements regarding job references. For example, some companies permit individual supervisors to provide written or verbal job references, explain the reason why their former employees left the company, or indicate whether an individual is eligible for rehire.

Negotiating Positive or Neutral Job References

Many employees who leave a job are offered severance packages. This is especially common for individuals who lost their jobs as part of a reduction in force or downsizing and those who have a legal claim against the employer such as discrimination or retaliation.

Our employment lawyers recognize the importance of job references. As a result, when we negotiate settlement agreements and severance packages we generally seek to include at least a neutral job reference, if not a positive one. In addition, when appropriate we try to convince employers to agree not to disparage our clients, meaning not to say anything negative about them irrespective of whether it is true, false or merely an opinion.

Special Considerations in Particular Industries

There are certain industries in which the law requires employers to provide some information about their former employers. For example, in New Jersey the Cullen Act requires hospitals and other medical providers to give out certain information relating to the competency of doctors, nurses and other health care workers who previously worked for them. Similarly, for employees who are subject to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA"), employers are required to provide information about the reasons for separation in a U5 form.

Contact an Employment Lawyer

Please feel free to contact our law firm if you have concerns about the type of job reference you will receive from your former employer. To schedule an appointment with one of our employment attorneys, you can either contact us online or call us at (973) 744-4000.