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Employment verification: Requirement or courtesy?

resume references employment

Question:

I applied for a new job and my new employer is requiring employment verification from my previous employers before I can start. One of my previous employers won't provide it (we had a disagreement which led to me leaving). Is there anything I can do legally or otherwise to require that he completes the form?

– Server, North Carolina

Answer:

Employment verification forms are fairly common in the industry—a way for an employer to verify claims made on the resume of a prospective employee. For the most part, these are a courtesy: There is no legal requirement for an employer to complete them, but I think the golden rule applies—you would expect former employers of your employees to fill out the form, so why not do others the same courtesy? In rare instances such as a government background check, your participation may be more forcefully required.

In this case, your new employer is requiring the form for you to be able to work and your former employer is refusing to complete the form, so you are at an impasse. To answer your question directly—no, it doesn’t seem that there is any way you can require that your former employer complete the form and the legal expenses to try to do so would be ridiculous. Our legal friends at Avvo.com were gracious enough to post this question to some attorneys to confirm that, “Yes, the employer can refuse as there is no law that requires an employer to verify your employment.”

From a practical perspective, however, there are other ways you can show your employment history, including W2 forms or pay stubs/direct deposit advice. If your new employer will not accept that alternate documentation, it may not be the kind of workplace you enjoy!

Municipalities are increasingly putting restrictions on asking about past employment history, specifically wage history, in hopes of combatting gender- and race-based pay disparity, so this is somewhat of a changing landscape. For operators, it is best to consult with your restaurant association and attorney to develop a clear policy for how you respond to employment verification requests, from whom, and what questions you are comfortable answering. It is also a good practice to have the employee agree as part of onboarding paperwork and the employee manual that they understand and agree that you may be responding to future requests.

More on verifying employment history here

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