How can I find out what my former employer is saying about me?

Question: I was terminated from a real estate company I had worked for since it started. I was the property manager. A new owner took over and decided to take on the property manager responsibilities for himself, and so made me the office manager. One day, he questioned why I was paid overtime, even though he, himself, authorized the weekly payroll each week. He said he was, nonetheless, unaware of it, and fired me, claiming that I had paid myself overtime without authorization. How can I find out what information they are giving to future employers. I can’t seem to find employment, and this was my last and most important job.

Sevierville, TN

Answer: Your concern, and your question, are more common than you might think. Our clients have found four ways that have worked for our clients:

1. Use a Reference-Check Company: There are so many people sharing your concern that an entire new industry has developed to meet the need: reference-checking companies. Simply go to Google or your own search engine and type in the words “Employment Reference Check” and you will likely find dozens of companies who, for a fee, will pretend to be an employer checking your reference. Like all companies, it’s a sure thing that some are more reasonably priced than others, and some are more effective than others. For this reason, it may be wise to “shop around” before signing up with one, or two.

2. Have a Friend Inquire: Another common method of reference-checking is to have a friend – preferably one in your own industry – contact your former employer and ask for a reference, or simply call them up and say, “Why did this person leave? Would you hire this person again?” It’s surely less expensive, but your friends probably don’t know the “tricks of the trade” when it comes to eliciting such information. You also might not want your friends to hear what your former employer might say.

3. Inquire Yourself: It may sound trite, but not all employers are out to get you. It could not hurt to ask any former employer – even if your departure was on bad grounds – if you can use them as a positive reference. Surely, if they say “Yes” it’s better than “No.” In that case, you might try Steps 1 and 2, above. If they say, “No,” you might skip to Step 4, below. You never know until you try. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

4. Have an Attorney Send a “Cease-and-Desist” Letter: If you have an attorney-friend, or if you need to pay an attorney, it might be wise to have them send a “cease-and-desist” letter demanding that your former employer stop saying false, negative or damaging statements about you, and that you are monitoring what they say.

These methods have worked for many of our clients, and should work for you. We surely hope so.

Best, Al Sklover

© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

If you would like to obtain a “model” memo to help you request a reference letter, with three sample reference letters [click here].