“My former employer refuses even to confirm my dates of employment. Any recourse?”

Question: I worked for a world leading investment bank and albeit being an excellent and proficient worker came under victimization and mistreatment by a very vindictive manager. She excluded me from management meetings, sniggered the moment I began to talk, and made ridiculous workload demands. Eventually, I resigned due to the frustration and distress.

It’s nearly two years since my departure. Potential employers have requested an employment reference from that employer, or even a confirmation of my employment, but it seems they are cleverly shirking responsibility for supplying one or the other. This is leading potential employers to the conclusion of some wrongdoing. I have no doubt now lost countless positions as a result.

London, UK

Answer: I know of no law, rule or regulation anywhere that requires a former employer to provide a reference, or even confirmation of dates of employment. There is one exception: what I consider to be the most important of all rules: “The Golden Rule,” that is, that you will live a better life and help make the world a better place if you treat others as you would have them treat you.

I don’t say that facetiously, but sincerely. While you may not be able to “force” your former employer to provide a reference, or even dates of your employment, you might very well “negotiate” them to do so by appealing – in sincere, respectful fashion – to the investment bank’s Board of Directors. They are “people,” they have “common sense,” they will likely be as appalled as I am that your former employer would be so vindictive, so petty, so shameful, so childish as to hold on to and bear such a grudge. She is acting beyond common civility.

First, I would write a respectful letter to your former manager, one that is 150% reasonable, pleasant, respectful, concise and clear, requesting that she correct this situation, and kindly confirm for you that she has done so. You must send it in a verifiable manner – perhaps using Fedex, or email, or both.

Second, if that does not work in two or three weeks’ time, send her a second letter, just as respectful, reasonable and clear as the first one, politely reminding her of the terrible consequences to you, and politely suggest that you do not want to – but may have to – bring this up to the Board of Directors, which would surely not reflect well on her. Remind her of the critical and central importance of relations and reputation in business life, and the beneficial impact on those relations and reputation of observing both (a) common civility, and (b) the Golden Rule. Send this by Fedex, or email, or both, as well.

This is a very sophisticated form of negotiation that far too few people understand, or engage in. So many people seek laws, rules and regulations to protect them, when such “gentle” reminders often carry so much more weight. It is positive, it is powerful and it is based in principle.

Third, if these still don’t work, write a letter to each of the members of the Board of Directors, setting forth what has happened, attaching both letters you sent to your former manager, and ask them to intervene on your behalf. You might mention that this is not common, not called for, and surely not good for business. Make sure you are respectful, and deferential. You might even apologize for taking their time, but felt you had to do so due to the totally unexpected nature of what is taking place, and the dire consequences to your career, livelihood and reputation.

I think this will work far better than any other method. I have used it many times in many situations, and it has a special kind of power. That is why I try to follow, and always preach, The Golden Rule, as a central part of life. It’s near the center of most major religions. And, simply put, it works!!

Give it a try. I’d love to hear how you do. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Best, Al Sklover

P.S.: Got a Job Offer, and Background Check is about to happen? Use our Model Letter to Your Former HR, Managers and Colleagues to Discourage Negative References. “What to Say, and How to Say It.”™. To obtain your copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly! 

© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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