A Guide to References – Can an Employer give a bad Reference?

A reference letter can increase or ruin your chances of employment depending on the contents. The reason for a potential employer asking for a reference begins during the process of recruitment. A potential employer might require a reference letter to support work ethic, history and performance in order to ratify that you are a good fit for a position. It ensures the validity of your application. A reference letter is an indicator of who you are and a measure of your attitude to work for your potential employer.

Many people mistakenly believe that a previous employer can’t give you a bad reference by law, but that’s not entirely true. References must be accurate and truthful so if you were disciplined at your last job then this could be included a reference. However, many employers are reluctant to provide bad references because anything considered to be not 100% accurate could be grounds for legal action. If you find out that you have been unfairly given a bad reference then you could possibly sue.

There is no standard or criteria when it comes to reference letters. It is worth ensuring that key information where possible is included:

  • Confirmation of dates of employment – the start and end date with the previous employer or business.
  • Confirmation of the candidate’s role in the company.
  • Salary
  • Job responsibilities
  • Relationship between staff and management.
  • Character and attitude to work and in the workplace
  • Contribution to work

It is important to note that references regarding personal data can also be requested by the employer, however, this is only if the employer has a lawful basis for requesting your personal data.

Some lawful basis for which an employer might request your personal details include;

  • If the request is necessary for the employer to comply with their legal obligations. It might be a criteria required by the business before employing potential candidates.
  • This is a requirement for the employer to comply with their side of a contract.
  • The employer has a justifiable reason or interest for requesting or processing the potential recruit’s personal data.
  • The data subject has given their permission in the release of their personal data.

Although a potential employer might request a reference letter, it is worth noting that a previous employer has no legal obligation to present, or provide a letter of reference.

Although there is no set guideline regarding what should be asked or should not be asked, there are certain topics that should not be inculded. Asking a potential candidate if they have ever filed a complaint of discrimination before might lead to a victimization complaint if the candidate is not offered the job. It might be considered relevant if the candidate raises issue with why they were not offered a role. In addition to this, questions involving health or disability are restricted under the Equality Act 2010.

If you think that you have been given an unlawful or bad employment reference our no win no fee Employment Law Solicitors can assist with all types of claims. Naturally, we pride ourselves on providing the best possible service to the highest standards, we offer free employment law advice on all problems. Call us on 0800 756 6605 or 020 3923 4777