What can a past employer legally say and not say about why I was fired?

I was terminated from my last trucking job for an accident 3 years ago that was not my fault or even on my DMV driving record. I was not even cited for it. Since then I have been having a very difficult time finding employment because of what my last job is telling prospective jobs that could hire me. What can this company say and not say about my termination? Because of this, I have not been able to find employment as a truck driver and I am losing my home because of this. Driving is all I know to make a living.

Asked on September 19, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The fact is that certain comments can be made that are truthful but not necessarily disparaging. A former employer's negative response to a prospective employer's inquiry is not automatically actionable. The law provides what is known as "qualified privilege" for answers to pre-employment inquiries. This privilege exists so that companies will be free to answer pre-employment questions fully without fearing legal action. Accordingly, a statement of opinion or fact is not illegal. So for example, "John Smith is the worst employee I've ever had to manage" is not illegal.

That all having been said, in such a circumstance, a former employee can sue for willful or reckless remarks made by an employer/former employer. In other words, statements that are false and grossly untrue are slanderous and are actionable. This is called defamation - a false statement that is knowingly made and communicated to a third-party which results in a financial/personal loss to the subject of the remarks. For example, "John Smith is the worst employee I've ever managed. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that he has a drug problem".  

Without more details it's hard to say just what your former employer's liability may or may not be. At this point you may want to consult with an employment law attorney om the matter.


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