References: workers' rights
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- they ‘suffered a loss’ - for example, a job offer was withdrawn
Discrimination and unfair dismissal
Workers might also claim damages from a court if:
- the employment contract says they must be given a reference but the employer refuses to
- the worker is sacked because they’ve been asked to give a reference while the worker’s still working for them
Contact Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) for advice.
Telephone: 0300 123 11 00
Textphone: 18001 0300 123 11 00
Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 8am to 8pm
Tuesday and Friday, 8am to 6pm
Saturday, 9am to 1pm
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