Is It Illegal To Give A Bad Reference?

References from coworkers, supervisors, and past employers are a crucial part of the hiring process in New York. These conversations provide employers insight into an applicant’s performance, behavior, and achievements in the workplace. While many people choose references who would likely provide a good report, not all of them are positive.

If a former employer provides you with a bad reference, you may wonder if you can take action against him or her. While an employer has the right to describe his or her truthful experience, the employer can face liability under defamation laws if he or she lies about an employee while giving a reference.

State And Federal Laws On Bad References

While a bad reference can severely harm an applicant’s chances of getting hired, they are not usually illegal. There are no state or federal laws that prohibit an employer, a coworker, or anyone else from providing a poor reference for someone else. However, an employer may cross the line and face liability if he or she makes an untrue statement about an applicant’s performance.

Many states have legislation that provides employers with qualified immunity when providing a reference in good faith, protecting them from civil liability. However, employers can still face lawsuits if they provide a reference in bad faith, relaying untruthful information about an employee to a potential employer. 

There are many reasons why an employer may provide an untrue reference. The employer may want to retaliate against the employee for reporting the company to a regulatory agency. The employer may have a bias against the employee based on race, sex, or another protected class. In some cases, an employer simply dislikes the employee and wants to harm his or her future job prospects.

Pursuing a Defamation Case After A Bad Reference

It can be difficult to know why an employer rejected you from a position. Many prospective employers send a general rejection letter or cease communication with potential applicants completely. However, if you discover that a former employer provided a negative, untruthful reference, you could pursue legal action against him or her.

To prove an employer defamation case, you will need to gather sufficient evidence proving that the employer lied about you in the reference. Specifically, you will need to establish the following four elements.

  • The employer made a false and defamatory statement about you, either spoken or written.
  • The employer published the statement to a third party, likely the prospective employer, without authorization.
  • The employer acted with some degree of fault when making the statement.
  • The statement caused harm to you, likely because you were rejected from the job.

If you can establish these elements, you can hold your former employer liable for his or her actions in New York civil court and recover compensation for the damages you suffered. An attorney can help you investigate your claim and gather the evidence you need to hold the employer accountable.

Speak To A Syracuse Employment Attorney

If you believe that a former employer defamed you while providing a reference, you have the right to pursue a claim against him or her. In these situations, it is important to consult with a Syracuse employment lawyer

An attorney can evaluate the situation, help you understand your legal options, and represent you throughout your claim. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your case and strategize your next steps.