What Is Your Old Boss Saying About You?

It's not often you get to hear what your old boss is saying about you behind your back! But, Rick Green did. "It was a matter of seeing what perspective employers and so forth would hear about me," Rick says after checking his references.

How'd he do it? Rick hired a career detective of sorts; a company that acts like a spy, checking up on your references. They call your former boss, just like a new employer would, except they're working for you, using trained court reporters to log the conversation word for word. "My immediate manager just really opened up about me. She was saying, 'I can't recommend him, he was trouble.' I was pretty angry about it," said Rick.

Rick admits he didn't get along with his manager, but says the statements about his performance weren't true. He says the undercover work opened his eyes. "They should really go down exactly the way any reference call would go down," said Mike Rankin.

Mike Rankin is with "Documented Reference Check" or D-R-C; a leader in the industry. His company is one of several that'll do the digging for you. Rankin says, with unemployment up, business is booming. He's logging thousands of new customers every month. Rankin says, "We're going to see about 25 to 30 percent growth."

Rankin says about a third of the calls he makes turn out to be negative references. And, new research shows there's a growing problem: fewer and fewer employers are willing to give references at all. "It's killing them with silence. It is suspicious simply because they can give more information and they choose not to."

According to the US courts, the number of slander and libel lawsuits increased by 29.7% from 2002-2003. Tyler labor attorney Maria Sowders recommends her clients stay quiet, except for verifying employment and for how long.

"There's nothing in it for an employer to give a reference. They don't gain anything by helping another employer make a good highering decision. All they do is put themselves on the line for a potential defamation suit," explains Sowders.

Especially she says, with the growth of reference checking services transcribing word for word what employers are saying. "In Texas, you could tape record a conversation to which you are a party. So there's nothing illegal about that. That's why these services exist."

But, Rankin says there's no risk of a lawsuit, if the truth is told. "They're allowed to share information as long as it's true, as long as the calling party has a corresponding right to know."

The laws vary from state to state. In Texas, there was a new law passed about 5 years ago affecting what employers could say about their past employees. "It gives them a conditional privilege, meaning the employee must show not only that the information was false, but that the employer new it or acted with reckless disregard. It's a higher standard of proof. It does protect the employer somewhat, but yet it's not absolute," says Sowders.

As for Rick, he's willing to give nothing but a good reference to his career detective. "Peace of mind was probably the most important thing. You want to get to the bottom of everything, particularly if it's about you."

Documented Reference says it uses a trained court reporter to transcribe everything that's being said about you so the report can hold up in any potential court case. A reference check by D-R-C costs about ninety dollars on average.

What careers give out the most negative references? According to Documented Reference Check, the top spot goes to education. The second career most likely to give out a negative reference is health care, followed by engineering.

Gillian Sheridan reporting.