UK Law: Is your previous employer prohibited from writing you a bad job reference?

Following a restructuring at my workplace, I was made redundant and am currently going through an employment tribunal. My sister told me that I should ask for a good reference as part of my settlement. But do I need to ask for that? Isnt my ex-employer legally obliged to write me a good/fair reference, seeing as I wasnt sacked for gross misconduct or something?

31 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    No, they are not allowed to give you a bad reference.However they can refuse to give you a reference at all, which in the eyes of a potential employer would be the equivalent of a very bad reference. Your sister is right, aren't they always?

  • 1 decade ago

    If previous employers were obliged to write a good reference, then what on earth would be the point of references?

    A reference is supposed to be an indication of what someone thinks about you, and how you worked.

    Suppose you were always an hour late, and always clowning around;

    An employer who didn't like you could say something like "Time keeping is abysmal, and the candidate is unable to take anything (including himself) seriously". On the other hnd, someone who liked you might say, "Great fun to have around and always boosting the morale of the team", and not say anything about the timekeeping. (The lesson here on READING a reference, is that sometimes what is NOT said is as important as what IS said).

    So, no, an employer is NOT obliged to provide a good reference. If they do not have a beef with you they will normally do so, but otherwise, at best they will provide a neutral reference but they CAN provide a good or a bad reference, as they see fit.

    Remember though that in this litigative world, if they say you are the best employee ever, and you turn out not to be, then your new employer could sue them, and if they run you down unreasonably (and you can get ex colleagues to confirm that it IS unrepresentative of you), then YOU can sue them.

    So on that basis, what kind of reference do you suppose most employers would be likely to write?

  • 1 decade ago

    Under the Data Protection Act 1998, confidential references which you give are exempt from disclosure. This means that you can legitimately refuse to supply the ex-employee with a copy of the reference.

    Obviously, if you are happy to let him see what you have written, then you should disclose it, especially if you are satisfied it is just and true (see further below). Unfortunately, however, the exemption does not cover references received by a prospective employer. Thus, the ex-employee is free to make a request for access to the reference recipients.

    In considering whether to disclose the reference, a prospective employer should either obtain your consent or it must be reasonable in all the circumstances to dispense with your consent.

    If you want to try and prevent disclosure, you should mark future references 'private and confidential' and include a statement that it should not be disclosed to the ex-employee without your prior written consent. It is not clear what action your ex-employee is threatening under the Data Protection Act 1998. It is assumed his threatened action is, first, in respect of obtaining a copy of the reference, in which case the provisions set out above apply. His next action would be a negligence claim through the civil courts.

    You owe a duty of care to the ex-employee in providing a reference to a prospective employer. Your duty is to take reasonable care in the preparation of the reference and you will be liable to the employee in negligence if you fail to do so and the employee suffers loss or damage as a result.

    Your obligation is to provide a true, accurate and fair reference. The reference must not give a misleading impression. However, as long as the reference is accurate and does not tend to mislead, there is no obligation on you to set out great detail or to be comprehensive.

    Essentially, this means you must be able to substantiate the comments you have made in the reference with hard evidence and you must not give misleading information, whether by the selective provision of information or by the inclusion of information in a manner that would lead a reasonable recipient to draw a false or mistaken inference. For example, you should not allude to an employee's misconduct if you have never carried out an investigation into that misconduct and you do not therefore have reasonable grounds for believing in that misconduct.

  • 1 decade ago

    He isn't legally obliged to write you a reference at all, he can refuse, but he cannot write a bad one. If he has critiscisms then refusing a reference is usually seen as giving a bad one. Many employers only go through refernces as a matter of proceedure as it is possible that an employer, wanting to get rid of someone he doesn't like, could give a very good reference so he will have a good chance of getting the job.

  • How do you think about the answers? You can sign in to vote the answer.
  • 1 decade ago

    In general an employer is not required to provide a reference. You can have written into a severance agreement a clause that the employer must copy you in on an reference they send so that you can be confident at least of what has been said about you (I have done this myself in the past). These days it is very common practise for employers to provide a very basic standard reference giving job title, attendance record, length of service and very little else.

  • 1 decade ago

    They can't give you a bad reference as in they can't say "XYZ was a terrible employee, blah blah blah". They CAN say "XYZ took 13 sick days and had 4 unexplained absences.." things like that which are factual and they can back up with records. You can give a very bad reference without actually saying someone was a bad employee by stating facts and omitting others. Or, like others have said, they can refuse to give a reference at all, which will always make prospective employers wonder why.

  • 1 decade ago

    They would not give you a bad reference, but by refusing to give you a reference at all means that they were not happy with either you or your work and the the next employer it wont look too good.

  • 1 decade ago

    Whilst they cannot give you a bad reference, they can give you a not so good one. Which any potential employer would recognise as being, in effect, a bad reference.

    I can't see how you can go to a tribunal for redundancy? Unless they've since employed someone to do your exact same job? (or advertised your exact same job and not offered it to you). Also virtually every employer would give youa reference as standard following redundancy.

  • 1 decade ago

    By law they an employer is not allowed to tell why your were termintaed. They can only state that yes you worked ther and the number of years you worked there. they are not to tell your pay either. Now if you ask you boss to write a letter of recomendation that is different from a job reference. A letter of recomendation makes you shine like a star and shows your porgress at that company highlighting your abilities. Refence only states that you worked there.

  • 1 decade ago

    I am amazed at how many bad...incredibly bad...suggests and answers people give on here.

    1. an employer is NOT obligated to give a letter of reference/recomendation.

    2. An employer can say what he wants to in a letter of recomendation if it is done at your express request.

    3. If you do not request it, then the answer is too long winded and would take 10 pages to fully answer. most employers will not speak of past employees to avoid liability unless the past employee expressly requests it.

Still have questions? Get your answers by asking now.