There’s a common question that pops up whenever we decide to move on to newer and hopefully greener career pastures and leave a job in search of new opportunities: What exactly is my former employer allowed to say and share about me now that I’m gone?
It’s a valid question, and one that can kick up a wide mix of feelings, often depending on how things went there. If you left your previous job on great terms and are confident that all those with whom you had worked were left with nothing but positive impressions of you, then wondering what previous employers can disclose about you moving forward might not bubble up to the level of a crisis. However, if things were a bit more contentious or challenging and there are some things regarding your previous employment that you’d really rather not be made public, then knowing the answer to this question may be high on your list of concerns.
Whatever situation you may be in, it’s helpful to know what former employers are able to disclose about you as you travel along your career journey.
It’s often a legal matter
Laws regarding what former employers are legally allowed to disclose about employees exist only at the state level—there are no federal laws designed to regulate when and what your previous bosses can share about you. Therefore, the answer to this question depends upon in which state you resided and/or worked in at the time of your employment. The best resources for determining the specific types of information that can legally be disclosed are the Department of Labor websites for the state(s) in question.
Typically, employers are allowed to share general information regarding your tenure with their companies—things like your dates of employment, job title, and responsibilities, all which serve to confirm your employment and validate the things you likely provided on your resume for potential employers. Some states allow employers to go a bit deeper, and topics like salary, ability, performance, and reasons for your leaving (e.g., were you laid off, did you quit, or were you fired for cause and why) are fair game to share.
Of course, despite what states allow, employers use their own discretion when choosing what to share. Companies are often cognizant of laws regarding defamation, slander, and libel, and usually make absolutely sure that everything they disclose is factual and precise, in an effort to avoid any legal retaliation or lawsuits being brought to them by former disgruntled employees.
Control as much as you can
You have some options here. If you’re concerned about what a former employer may disclose about you then it might be in your best interest to refrain from using them on any list of references you provide prospective future employers (although this approach might raise some red flags and follow-up questions). You can also ask previous employers what they plan to share about you and politely ask them to keep certain information private. (Just keep in mind, as we’ve mentioned, they aren’t required to comply and it’s a risk to expect them to convey exactly what you prefer.)
Be careful when trying to coordinate what you plan to say about a previous job. Nothing sounds off warning alarms for HR managers quite so loudly as when you and a previous employer have different stories to tell about your tenure. Hopefully, this will keep you on the honest, straight-and-narrow path whenever sharing information about your work history—which is always your best approach when on the job hunt trail.