Employee references: to give or not to give?

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As an employer, there is no legal duty to provide a reference for a former or current employee. However, there are certain exceptions.

It’s mandatory for an employer to give an employee a reference if:

  • It’s contractual. For example, if it’s included in the employee’s contract or settlement agreement, or it has been otherwise agreed between employer and employee.
  • The employment is regulated, e.g. by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

The above circumstances aside, as an employer you are within your right to refuse to provide a reference

I need to write a reference for an employee; what should I include?

The reference should be accurate and truthful. If it contains unflattering information, it should never be malicious. If an employee suspects they haven’t gained a job because of a malicious or inaccurate reference, they could pursue a claim at the Tribunal and/or Civil Court. The new employer could potentially have a claim too if the old employer got the reference wrong.

Some employers simply provide a reference recording the dates of the employment and the job title. If employers have this policy, or indeed a policy to not provide references, this should be consistently held and should be made clear in any response to a request for a reference.

Acas’ ‘Providing a job reference’ guide is helpful for both employers and employees. Employers should be sure to seek legal advice if they don’t want an ex-employee to see a reference.

Further information

If you’re an employer and you need some legal advice on references, or any other employment matter such as contracts, settlement agreements or redundancy, our employment solicitors are here to help.

To speak to a specialist employment lawyer in Bristol or South Gloucestershire call us on 0117 322 6602 or complete our online enquiry form.


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