Can an Employer Disclose That You Were Fired?

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If you're applying for new jobs after termination, you may be wondering whether a previous employer can say that you were fired.

You are right to be aware that your prospective employer may check on the reasons you left your job. Most employers conduct background or reference checks during the interview process. If you’ve been terminated for cause, it may well come up during their investigation.

Being prepared for what your former employer will tell inquiring hiring managers about the circumstances of your departure from the company can help you put the best possible spin on what happened.

Here's information on when an employer can disclose that you were fired, when employees have legal protections, and the information that companies can share about former employees.

Key Takeaways

  • Federal law doesn't prohibit employers from sharing the reasons for terminating an employee.
  • Some state laws regulate what employers can say about former employees. Check with the state department of labor for restrictions in your location.
  • Check with your former employer and ask what information, if any, they will share about why you were fired.
  • Be prepared to explain with a short and simple explanation of why you were fired.

When an Employer Can Say You Were Fired

There are no federal laws that prohibit employers from discussing the reasons for terminating an employee. However, there are laws in some states that regulate what employers can say about former employees.

In many cases, employers aren't legally prohibited from telling another employer that you were terminated, laid off, or let go. They can even share the reasons that you lost your job. However, if an employer falsely states that you were fired or cites an incorrect reason for termination that is damaging to your reputation, then you could sue for defamation.

The burden of proof would fall on you as the plaintiff to prove that the information shared by your past employer was false and damaging in order for you to win the case.

What Information Employers Typically Share

Fortunately, most employers will be cautious about sharing any information that might be harmful to a former worker for fear of legal repercussions.

Many organizations have policies that limit their staff to providing only dates of employment and job titles when inquiries are made about past employees. Others may be more willing to share information with prospective employers.

Check Company Policy

You can be proactive during your exit interview (if you have one) and ask what the company policy is regarding the information they release to hiring managers from other companies.

If you don't have an exit interview, check with your manager or human resources department on what information they will give out when they are asked to verify your work history. If you know what the organization is going to disclose, it will be easier to decide how to handle it.

Check State Law

State labor laws vary, so check your state labor department website for information on the laws in your state that limit what employers can disclose about former employees. You’ll also find other useful information about what rights and services you are entitled to as a worker who has been fired.

Be Prepared to Share Information

It's a good idea to be prepared to talk about how your employment ended. You don't need to discuss all the details. Instead, have a concise explanation of why you lost your job.

If you keep it simple and straightforward, it will be easier to keep the conversation moving forward about how and why you're qualified for the job.

How To Discuss a Termination

Even when you’re prepared, this can be an awkward conversation, but having a plan will give you the opportunity to construct an answer that leaves you looking as good as possible, regardless of the reasons. If you tell a lie and end up being caught, that misinformation can be grounds for withdrawing a job offer or even terminating you later on if it’s discovered by your employer.

When you have been fired, regardless of the reasons, you will need to address the situation with prospective employers as well as your colleagues, friends, and family.

Take the time to process the reasons, whether they are due to shortcomings on your part, or entirely circumstantial, and try to represent the facts in as flattering a way as possible.


Remember to leave any bitterness or blame out of the conversation with prospective employers and focus on how you have addressed any personal issues and/or enhanced your qualifications as a result of the termination.

How To Answer Questions About Being Fired

Even if you think your past employer won't share the fact that you were let go, you should always be as honest as possible when discussing your circumstances—although there are indeed right and wrong ways to answer questions about a firing.

The best answers are:

Truthful: While it’s acceptable (advisable, even!) to put a positive spin on the story of your termination, you still need to stick to the truth. That means not saying that there was a layoff when you were fired for cause, for example. Tell a lie, and you’re likely to get caught, either when your prospective employer checks your references or when the rumor mill churns out a contradictory story of your departure. Most industries are secretly pretty small: you should assume that the hiring manager will find out why you left your previous job, even if the company has a policy against revealing that information officially.


If you’re caught in a lie, you’re liable to lose the new job, even if you’ve already been hired when the news comes out.

Brief: There’s no need to dwell on your termination. Offer a brief, truthful, positive answer and move on to what you have to offer the new employer. Don’t fall prey to the urge to beat yourself up or over-explain. Most people lose a job at some point in their careers, and many successful people have been fired at one time or another. It’s not the career disaster it might feel like at that moment.

Positive and Forward-Looking: It’s the future that matters now, not the past. Bring the interview’s focus on what matters most: what you can do for the employer.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What can I do if my former employer is going to give me a bad reference?

One way to overcome a negative reference is to have positive references that can attest to your qualifications for a job. You can use references from earlier in your career, from peers, and from professional connections. Also, be prepared to discuss the situation from your perspective so the employer gets the full picture.

Can I collect unemployment if I am fired?

You may be able to collect unemployment if you are fired from your job. Whether you can collect unemployment depends on the reason why your employment was terminated and state law regarding eligibility for unemployment benefits. Check with your state department of labor for guidelines.

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  1. NOLO. “State Laws on References and Statements By Former Employers.”

  2. Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. “Defamation.”

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