References in the news

When someone leaves a job, many assume that their employer has to give them a reference.

The Government website reminds us that:

An employer doesn't usually have to give a work reference - but if they do, it must be fair and accurate. Workers may be able to challenge a reference they think is unfair or misleading.

Employers must give a reference if:

  • there was a written agreement to do so
  • they're in a regulated industry, like financial services

If they give a reference it:

  • must be fair and accurate - and can include details about workers' performance and if they were sacked
  • can be brief - such as job title, salary and when the worker was employed

Once the worker starts with a new employer they can ask to see a copy of a reference. They have no right to ask their previous employer.

If the worker thinks they've been given an unfair or misleading reference, they may be able to claim damages in a court. The previous employer must be able to back up the reference, such as by supplying examples of warning letters.

Workers must be able to show that:

  • it's misleading or inaccurate
  • they 'suffered a loss' - for example, a job offer was withdrawn

A recent case reviewed this difficult and sensitive area. The interesting aspect of the case is that it was a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) that got it wrong!

The employee had worked for the CAB since 2004 during which time he received good performance management reviews and received no warnings about sickness or absence. The employee did have some periods of sickness and was made redundant on 2012. He subsequently found another role but the reference provided by the CAB resulted in the job offer being withdrawn.

The CAB indicated that it would not re-employ him, made no favourable comments about his work and over stated his sickness absence by 64.5 days. Perhaps unsurprisingly the Employment Tribunal found that the reference was not 'honest, fair or accurate'.

This case is an important reminder to employers to ensure that any reference if fair and accurate. References must be factual and balanced and the impression of one individual in an organisation must not be allowed to cloud the content of the reference.

To discuss this or any other employment related issue, contact us.

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