Former Coworker Slandering Me In References


I have reason to believe my ex co-worker has been giving bad job references to new job prospects while pretending to be my supervisor. I haven’t worked since January 2012. What should I do?


Need To Work


Dear Need To Work:

I’m sure this is a very frustrating and upsetting situation! We aren’t attorneys and don’t know the legal and civil aspects of this, so you may want to contact a lawyer who specializes in employment issues. At least you could ask for a free consultation to find out if you have any recourse for what you think has happened. Unfortunately, even if you were able to sue the coworker, she probably doesn’t have any money to pay you for what she has cost you. However, an attorney is your best advisor for that route.

Other than that approach, here are some things to consider doing at this point:

1. It doesn’t sound like you worked for a larger company. If you did, they probably have a process for handling references and would certainly take action if they thought an employee was claiming to be a supervisor and giving out reference information. If that’s the case, contact HR at your former workplace and give them your reasons for thinking it’s happening.

If you worked in a small business, consider contacting your former supervisor. Ask if she has received reference requests from the various places where you have applied for work. If you had a good relationship with the supervisor when you left, she might be open to talking to you about it. You might get her attention more by mentioning that if an employee would do that to cause you problems he or she might do other improper things related to work.

2. While you’re talking to your former supervisor, ask her if she could write a brief reference letter you could copy and attach to your resume or job applications. If you had a good relationship with her that might be something she would do. In that way, you’d have something positive immediately even though a potential employer would still call her. Not all supervisors will do that, since they don’t want a letter out and about, without them having control over how it is used. But, if your former supervisor would do it, it would be very helpful.

Or, you could ask your former supervisor if you could have copies of any performance evaluation reports for you, if those were done, which could show that you were a good employee. Make your case to her that, whatever happened in your former work, even if you left on less than positive terms, you want a chance to get another job and move forward with your life. Let her know that you appreciate her help and let her know how much you rely on her for it. Sometimes that encourages former supervisors to be more positive than they might be otherwise.

3. In the future, when you give reference information, put a note with it or beneath it to alert the person who will be calling the reference number. You could say something like, “Note: Please be certain you are contacting my former supervisor, Mary Smith, directly. She is the only one who would be aware of my performance and behavior and who could give accurate reference information.”

4. Another thing you could do would be to try to get some references other than that one employer. That might not be easy to do, according to the kind of work you do or where you live, but it’s something to consider. For example, check with a temporary work agency and see if you can get work there as a way to get experience with several employers. That’s also a way to find more permanent employment. I often suggest temporary employment for people who are looking for permanent work, because it can turn out to be full-time.

Or, if there is some kind of organization where you could volunteer for awhile, you could show your teamwork, communication skills and work habits and get a reference that way. You would want to tell them up front that you can only volunteer until you get a job, then you’ll have to go to work. But, they may be happy to have you, short-term.

Although it would be good for the volunteer work to be related to the skills you need in a potential job, anything could be used as a positive reference, to show your potential as an employee. At least it could off-set any negative information that might be given about you.

5. Consider contacting the department of labor in your state. Many of those provide job training or counseling about work. That might not help you with the reference problem, but anything that makes you better prepared for job-hunting can have value.

6. This last suggestion may seem obvious, but I want to mention it. I don’t know what kind of work you are seeking, but if you apply in person, make sure you present yourself in such a way that the person taking your application will feel inspired to mention you positively to others in the business. I always remind people to never overlook the clout of the first person they meet in a store, business or organization. Everyone has the potential to pass along good or bad comments.

I wish there was some magical solution for your problem but unfortunately there isn’t. However, I’m hoping that a combination of those things will help you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how things work out. Best of luck to you!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.