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, eg 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 - eg 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.

Bad references

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 - eg, by supplying examples of warning letters.

Workers must be able to show that:

  • it’s misleading or inaccurate
  • they ‘suffered a loss’ (eg a job offer was withdrawn)

Workers can get legal advice - eg from Citizens Advice. They may also be able to get legal aid.

Discrimination and unfair dismissal

Workers may also be able to 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

Workers can get legal advice - eg from Citizens Advice. They may also be able to get legal aid.

Contact Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) for advice.

Acas helpline
Telephone: 08457 47 47 47
Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm
Saturday, 9am to 1pm
Find out about call charges

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