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> Prospective employers cannot be so naive as to think conflict does not exist, and that workers never leave because they are unhappy or are released because the are invaluable.
I don't think that's the reason why criticism of current or former employers doesn't play well. Like a lot of interview questions, its more what it says about the interviewee's awareness of interview skills.
Interviewers like to see - as a necessary, not sufficient condition - that candidates are sufficiently keen for the post by having prepared themselves for the interview. That's why you still get all those stupid questions about strengths and weaknesses. The answers don't matter per se (well, unless you start saying outlandish things); it's the display of being prepared for the question that counts. It marks one check box off on the interviewer's sheet: candidate is sufficiently motivated for the job.
Similarly, criticising former/current employers tells the interviewer that the candidate is either
i. not aware of interview norms (therefore, hasn't done their research on how to be successful in an interview and, consequently, isn't sufficiently motivated to get the job) or
ii. knows the norm but breaks it in the 'heat of the moment' (a sign the candidate lacks emotional self-control).