Additional Information: I’m been unemployed for 6 months and have been applying for jobs and interviewing but have received no job offers. Then I got to wondering what my former employer can say about me in a reference? Does MA law restrict employers from only providing info like dates worked and title and job responsibilities? Can my former employer say negative things about me that would keep me from getting another job?
Unfortunately, the law in Massachusetts does not expressly protect you from a bad job reference. Your former employer is free to say what it wants about your work performance with few restrictions. Although you might be able to pursue damages for a patently false reference that causes you to lose out on a job, doing so will not be easy. You would probably need to proceed under legal standards that generally bar people from defaming — also known as libeling or slandering — another person by the publication of false information. This type of case, however, is very difficult to prove, particularly in the employment context. For starters, you would need to show both that any statements made by your former employer were factual as distinct from mere opinions, which are protected by law and normally cannot be acted upon. You’d then have to prove the statements were false, were made to a prospective employer who would otherwise have hired you, and caused you to lose out on a job opportunity. If you succeeded in all this, your damages could be measured by the amount you lost from missing the job opportunity. These damages, however, need to be mitigated; that is, you need to continue trying to find work in a diligent fashion and, once you do, any amount you make will be deducted from the damages you’d otherwise be entitled to. Given all this and the heavy expenses normally associated with litigation, suits for defamation in this area rarely make much sense.
Massachusetts Employment Law Attorney Jack Merrill provides legal representation to employees, employers and businesses throughout the Boston metro west and Worcester County region including Ashland, Dedham, Framingham, Franklin, Hopkinton, Maynard, Marlborough, Milford, Natick, Needham, Newton, Shrewsbury, Sudbury, Waltham, and Worcester, Massachusetts.