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Is it discrimination if former employers lie in a job reference?

On Behalf of | Jul 20, 2022 | Workplace Discrimination |

Whether a former employer’s untruths during a reference about you are discriminatory depends on the details of your situation. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stresses that lying in a job reference is illegal in certain circumstances.

It could be discriminatory if your former boss makes false reference statements or refuses to provide one based on your:

  • Color
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Gender identity
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Pregnancy
  • Disability
  • Age
  • National origin
  • Genetic information

No employer should lie when providing a reference, but it happens and is often rooted in discrimination.

What does Michigan law say about job references?

State law offers guidance about improper job references. According to the legislature, those victimized by a false employment reference may file a civil claim when:

  • The employer knew the information was false or misleading
  • The employer showed a reckless disregard for telling the truth
  • A state or federal law prohibits the employer from giving false references

If you can prove your former employer lied because of your skin color, for example, you may have grounds for an employment discrimination claim.

Unfortunately, proof in such situations is hard to come by but not impossible in cases of actual employment mistreatment. For example, your personnel file may show a pattern of possible discrimination before you left the job.

What can former employers say about you?

Michigan employers must disclose, upon request, information in your personnel file to you or a prospective employer. The information disclosed should pertain to your job performance and other employment matters.

Consider learning more about workplace discrimination to determine if the reference was unlawful. If your former employer’s false statements resulted in substantial damages, such as the loss of a lucrative new job, you need additional information.


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