Employment law – Job references

Below is a brief guide on what employees need to be aware of when requesting a reference.

Does your employer have to give you a reference?

There is no legal obligation on an employer to provide a reference for an employee or ex-employee and when asked to, it can refuse to provide one-except in some regulated industries like financial services.

If you do get a reference, what is likely to be in it?

Almost 75% of references these days are factual- namely your name, dates of employment, and job title. Sometimes, the reason for dismissal is included.

As factual references are so common, it is unlikely that any negative inference by your new employers will be drawn from its limited nature.

You can ask your ex- employer for a fuller reference, and in some circumstances, you may be able to obtain a separate reference form the individual line manager that you worked with.

If your employer does give you a reference, they are under a legal duty to make sure they are accurate and not misleading to your future employer. This means that if, for example, you were subject to disciplinary action from your old employer, this could form part of the reference.

 Can my employer give me a bad reference?

Yes, as long as they genuinely consider it to be true and accurate and have reasonable grounds for that belief.

Can I see a copy of my reference?

Once you start working for a new employer, you can ask them for a copy of any reference that they have been given from your previous employers. This is called a Subject Access Request and is a right that you have under the data protection laws, but your old employers are not obliged to provide a copy- only your new ones.

What are the practical pitfalls?

If you have had long periods of absences due to illness, you will not want this reflected on your reference, so it is best to find out what your employer’s policy is on the provision of references, and ensure that sickness records are not included.

You also need to make sure that your employer has documented your correct job title in the reference. There have been many instances where this is not accurately reflected, especially where you have been promoted over the years or changed roles.

You may also not be happy for the reason of your termination of employment to be stated on the reference- for example if you were made redundant, as a result of performance issues or because of ill-health. It is best for this to be addressed before or at the time of your departure and where a direct relationship still exists between you and your employer enabling the reference to be modified.

Finally, you need to make sure you are aware of who your new employer needs to apply to for your reference. This is usually the HR department, but not every company has one and it is always better to be prepared and have an individual name to pass on if necessary.

 If you would like further advice in relation to the above or any other HR matter contact us at Cerno HR:

Jabeen Tahir HR Consultant
Aisha Beg- HR Consultant
 Cerno HR

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