What options do you have when a former company goes out of business and can’t or won’t offer references to a prospective employer?


In last week’s What should I do, a TechRepublic member asked what you should do when a former employer lies about you to prospective employers. This week’s e-mail comes from a TechRepublic member who has a similar, but perhaps odder, problem. Read on:

“I empathize with the recent post from someone whose previous employer is spreading false rumors they were fired for theft. I hope the EEOC and others will help that person get justice.

I have a different problem. My previous employer went bankrupt and was purchased by another company. The current company needs to check references, but my previous employer refuses to release any information to the new company. I have contacted a legal resource about a week ago, but have not heard anything. I live near Chicago, IL. I am concerned because this seems illegitimate.”

I am assuming that all the new company wants to do is confirm dates of employment because that’s basically the most you can expect to get from a former company these days, even if the company is still in existence. Because of the fear of litigation, most companies refuse to offer performance references. If they say something bad about you, you could seek legal counsel. If they say something good and you’re hired, but you subsequently harm the new company in some way, that company could seek legal counsel against the company who gave them the good reference. Chances are slim that any cases like this come to fruition, but they can still be filed and take time and money to get around.

If all the new company wants is the date range of your employment, then I would seek out some former bosses at the company who could confirm those. If that’s not possible, then you should go for “personal professional” references such as former co-workers, customers, or vendors you worked with who can at least confirm you were there. They would also be free to attest to your work ethic.

Also, did you retain any copies of your performance reviews? Those would offer proof of your employment, as well as some evidence of your work behavior.

Got a career scenario of your own? E-mail it to us here. We’ll post it anonymously, and see what kind of feedback your peers have to offer.