Will this go on my permanent record?

I was reading your article and had a few questions in regards to larger companies. What happens after the company has fired the accused? Are legal charges ever brought up? What if the accused was fired but didn’t actually commit the harassment? Does it go on a public record?

Your teachers liked to threaten students with putting things on their “permanent” records, but we all know that wasn’t permanent. After all, I doubt Lowell Elementary school even has a record of the time that I and several other 6th graders got called into the principal’s office for switching seats on the bus during an orchestra field trip. We all lied and said that the bus driver must have been confusing us with other kids, and the principal either believed us or figured, “They leave this school in 2 weeks and for goodness’ sake these are orchestra kids. It’s not like their nerdy selves have ever done anything else even remotely bad.” I suspect the latter is the case, as I’m sure elementary school principals are well skilled in lying 6th graders. (For the record, I only changed seats once, but my friend Carrie, she did it a lot. She was a violinist, and we know how they are.)

My point is there’s no permanent record and there’s no central depository of people who were fired for a harassment. (Please don’t give Congress any ideas.) If there was no court case and if there was no media coverage (official channels or co-workers discussing it on Facebook) it’s not even going to be Googleable. So, no person on the street will be able to go an internet search and find out that you were fired for harassing someone.


Well, not quite. While there isn’t a public record, there is a private record, and your former company will maintain that. With today’s HR computer systems, it just may well be permanent. In 25 years, someone can call your previous company and say, “Can you tell us Jane Smith’s reason for termination?” and some 22-year-old HR admin who wasn’t even born when this event went down will be able to pull up your file and say, “Jane was terminated on 23 March, 2015 for harassment.” That information will stay there.

Now, the better question is, will they? Many, many companies simply verify dates of employment and titles. Most managers, though, will spill the beans, regardless of company policy. It’s a pretty rare company that allows their HR admin to say anything other than dates of service and job titles and maybe rehire eligibility. But, legally? They can as long as what they are saying is true. They can even legally say, “Jane was fired for harassment,” without turning over the evidence that led them to that decision.

But, here’s the thing most people don’t know about–this is all negotiable. You can ask directly what they will say about you in a reference check. You can hire a reference firm to call for you and do a reference check and verify what is said. (You can ask a friend to do this as well, but unless your friend is experienced at this, it’s better to pay to have a reputable firm do this.) In your case, since you say you are innocent (and my readers only rarely lie to me), you can almost certainly get them to give only a neutral reference. Sometimes you can do this on your own. Sometimes you can hire an attorney. Sometimes even the reference checking firms offer a “cease and desist” letter service which essentially tells the company they have to stop. It’s expensive for the company to go to court, so they simply revert to confirming dates of service.

So, ask what they will say. Ask what your record shows. Don’t be nervous about it–after all, they’ve already fired you so there’s not much more they can do to you. If they say they’ll say X and you think they are saying Y, it’s worth the money to hire the reference firm.

And one other note about permanency: Even if the company you worked for is sold or divided, your record will follow. In this way, 10 years from now you can find yourself on the do not hire list for a company you never worked for because they purchased a division of your former company and got the old employee records with it. It’s easy to transfer all the computer files. (Well, relatively easy. Yes, I’ve been through multiple HRIS implementations and record transfers. It looks easy to the employees. To the HRIS and IT people, it is decidedly NOT EASY, but they do it anyway.)

TL;DR There’s no public record, other than the internet. Your company can tell reference checkers what happened. Most won’t, but most managers will. You can find out for yourself what they are saying and dispute it before it causes you harm. If you want a lawyer, make sure you get an employment one.

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2 thoughts on “Will this go on my permanent record?

  1. …slightly different rules apply in the UK Care industry, where the employer has a duty to refer an exiting employee whom they think has engaged in relevant conduct / satisfied the harm test / received a caution for a relevant offence, to the DBS. This creates an almost permanent record. The DBS control a central depository and whilst they won’t share what they hold with potential employers, they will keep on reviewing the information until such time they feel they need to take action and ban a person from working in the industry. Its a good safeguarding system, but does rely on employers making the referrals.

  2. Are legal charges ever brought up? Well, that would depend a lot on what happened. I think criminal charges are pretty rare. You would have to commit a pretty bad act. There are a lot of civil suits. The person being harrassed can sue the company and you for damages. I have no idea how frequently civil suits occur.

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