February 13th, 2018
Bully Bosses Can Inflict More Damage with Negative References
By Dinah Wisenberg Brin, SHRM, Feb 12, 2018
Employees trying to escape a bullying boss, and even those who have managed to land a new position, may be surprised to learn that their workplace nemesis is causing further damage by providing negative job references.
HR departments similarly may not realize that supervisors are disregarding company policies against giving references that go beyond confirming job titles and employment dates.
With prospective employers often bypassing human resources and calling supervisors for references, bully bosses can and do impair employees’ future job prospects, experts say.
“In the good old days, the references were HR, and in many cases, in many companies, HR still is the traditional venue. But we’ve seen a marked shift of interest in calling the former supervisors,” said Jeff Shane, president of reference-checking firm Allison & Taylor. “Hiring managers have long since figured out that supervisors tend to be far more talkative.”
Job seekers often wrongly believe that their current or former employers will say nothing negative and do no more than confirm employment, Shane said.
Many supervisors, however, never receive company training on how to respond to employee reference checks, while many others forget or ignore the policy, he added. His Rochester, Mich.-based firm checks references on behalf of job seekers, compiles reports on responses from former employers, and, if necessary, sends cease-and-desist letters to companies violating policies or even laws by supplying negative references that cross the line into misrepresentations or lies and that could be construed as defamation.
“We call a great many supervisors as references for individuals. The vast majority of the time, the supervisor has something to say” beyond titles and employment dates; their reviews, even if sincere, often are less than optimal. “In many instances, they know exactly what they’re doing” and that the employee is unlikely to ever find out if the negative review caused a missed opportunity, Shane said.
Nearly half of all reference checks that Allison & Taylor conducts contain some degree of negativity, he said. Even a supervisor who gives an employee a positive letter of recommendation will sometimes go “180 degrees in another direction” when called for a reference, he said.
Smart firms wanting to avoid litigation coach bosses to give only employment dates, said Gary Namie, Ph.D., co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, which refers bullying targets to Allison & Taylor to learn about feedback from a current or former employer. Often the news confirms a candidate’s fear, and “a great many of our clients are totally shocked and devastated” by what is found. Continue reading this article… »