Can a Bad Reference Ruin My Clearance?

Unfortunately, most of us don’t get along with every single person we meet. Occasionally, we’ll meet someone we don’t like, or someone else won’t like us. If you’re in your 20s or 30s or beyond and now you’re applying for security clearance, there’s a good chance that there’s at least one person in your past who has an ax to grind.

If this person is on your background investigator’s list to call, what will happen if they complain about your character? Can one bad reference tank your security clearance? This is a concern that comes up a lot. This concern is well-justified: one bad reference from someone in your past could possibly determine your fate.

Evaluating the Whole Person

It is perfectly reasonable to worry about a bad reference, especially if it’s from a former boss or a former spouse who paints you out to be a terrible person. Keep in mind, however, that background investigators will take the whole-person approach. Meaning, they will evaluate all the facts of your case. If they have eight great references and one bad one, they should take it with a grain of salt.

On the other hand, if each person the investigator talks to says you’re not to be trusted, that you have a short fuse, or that you’re malicious, now that’s another story. If the investigator hears repeatedly that you have a bad character, then you’re going to have a problem.

“What if my former spouse lies about me and says I’m not to be trusted?” Sadly, this happens a lot, which makes no sense when such exes are relying on child support or spousal support, or both. You’d think they’d have a vested interest in their ex having a good-paying job, but alas, too many exes are jilted and don’t think about how they’d be well-served by their ex receiving security clearance.

This doesn’t just happen with former spouses. It can happen with neighbors who think your kids play their music too loud. It can happen with a high school principal who believed some lie another student told them about you. It can happen with a jealous former boss who was demoted and you took their place. Or, even a former roommate who is still seething because you wouldn’t accept their romantic advances.

If you’re genuinely concerned about a bad reference, whatever you do, don’t try to bribe, coax, or threaten the individual so they give a good reference. If you want to be proactive, contact our firm for legal advice.