References: your rights

An employer does not usually have to give a work reference – but if they do, it must be fair and accurate. You may be able to challenge a reference you 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 your performance and if you were sacked
  • can be brief – such as job title, salary and when you were employed

Once you start with a new employer, you can ask to see a copy of a reference. You have no right to ask your previous employer.

You can read guidance from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) on what to do if you cannot get a reference.

Bad references

If you think you’ve been given an unfair or misleading reference, you may be able to claim damages in court. Your previous employer must be able to back up the reference, such as by supplying examples of warning letters.

You must be able to show that:

  • it’s misleading or inaccurate
  • you ‘suffered a loss’ – for example, the withdrawal of a job offer

Discrimination and unfair dismissal

You might also be able to claim damages in court if:

  • the employment contract says you must be given a reference, but the employer refuses
  • you were sacked because your employer was asked for a reference while you were still working for them

Contact your local Citizens Advice for free and impartial advice including on legal matters. You may also get legal aid.

You can also get free, confidential and impartial advice about all employment rights issues from Acas.

Acas helpline
Telephone: 0300 123 11 00
Textphone: 18001 0300 123 11 00
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm
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