Do I have the right to know what a personal reference said about me to a prospective employer?

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Do I have the right to know what a personal reference said about me to a prospective employer?

I was recently pre-hired by a property management company that final hiring was based on my drug test. My position as an Assistant Manager was assured by the Regional Manager and my new Head Manager. 1 week later I got a phone call from HR saying they were not going be able to continue my hiring due to a “bad reference”. I asked my personal reference’s did they get called and they all said “No”. So then I called my past employers and they said they are only allowed to give my employment dates. So I want know is that a lawsuit or not?

Asked on August 16, 2011 California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

There is no general right to see or hear what a reference said about you. In order to find out, you'd need to first bring a lawsuit, then use the process of "discovery" to uncover information; that, of course, is difficult if you don't know what each past employer said. You'd in essence be suing them blind, which can be expensive and could subject you to liability. Second, even if they said anything negative about, that would still not be actionable unless it was defamation--that is, unless they made an untrue statement of fact (not opinion) about you.

As to your current employer--it *may* be the case that the assurances your received were sufficient to constituate a job offer, which you accepted, with the one caveat re: the drug tests. If that is the case, then you might possibly have a cause of action for not getting the job, if they based the decision on anything other than the drug test. The first issue would be whether what has said did in fact constitute a firm job offer which you accepted, creating a contract of employment. If you wish to explore this further, you should consult with an employment attorney who can evaluate what was said, any documents or correspondence, and the situation in detail with and for you. Good luck.


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