You never expected your relationship with your former employer to sour this badly, but it did – so you put in your notice and moved on.
Now, however, you’re concerned about what your employer may be saying about you when they’re called for a reference – or even when they’re speaking to others in your field. You have a feeling that they may be vindictive.
The law protects an employer’s right to speak – to a point
In Washington state, RCW 4.24.730 states that an employer who is providing you a reference is presumed to be acting “in good faith and is immune from civil and criminal liability” for whatever they relay, so long as they disclose the information at the specific request of the other employer (rather than simply volunteering the information on their own) and the information they disclose is related to:
- Your ability to perform your job
- Your overall skill, reliability and diligence as you did your work
- Whether you did anything illegal or wrongful in the context of your job duties
It’s important to realize, however, that this presumption of good faith can be overcome if you’re able to provide clear evidence that what an employer said about you was purposefully misleading, knowingly untrue or made with an utter disregard for the truth.
For example, it’s one thing for an employer to give you a tepid, unenthusiastic reference that may subtly convey the fact that they don’t like you to your potential employer. It’s quite another, however, for them to start basically “spreading gossip” and telling your employer that after you left, they believed that you had taken company materials, like a laptop and phone, when they know for a fact you returned them and got a receipt.
If you’ve been defamed by a former employer and you’ve suffered reputational damage and economic damage related to your career opportunities, it may be time to seek tailored legal guidance. That way, you can determine if you are in a strong position to take formal action.