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Can an employer give a bad reference?

can an employer give a bad reference
Are you considering a job move, but worried that a bad reference might impact your application? 

Some workers fear retaliation from employers for leaving their roles. Others feel that they will receive a negative reference due to a soured relationship. 

If you’d like to change jobs, you shouldn’t let fear of a bad reference hold you back. In this blog, we’ll discuss how to navigate bad references and what you can do about them. 

Do employers have to give a reference?

No. Most employers don’t have to give a reference. 

The only scenarios where employers are obliged to give references are for regulated financial advisor roles, or if they previously agreed to give you a reference in writing.

Outside of these two instances, employers have no obligation to provide you or your prospective employer with a reference - good or bad.

When responding to reference requests, many companies have a policy of only confirming employment dates and giving no opinion on performance.

Can an employer give you a bad reference?

Yes, but only if it’s justifiable. 

Some people wrongly believe that employers can’t give a bad reference. That’s not the case. Employers can give you a bad reference if they have evidence of poor performance or negligence. 

The evidence would need to come in the form of previous written warnings or any other compelling evidence other than a manager’s general opinion of your performance.

Crucially, employers need to be fair and accurate in their references - they cannot provide you with a bad reference if it’s unjustified.

Do I need to give my most recent employer as my reference?

Not every company requires you to provide the details of your most recent employer when asking for a reference. 

Often, they will accept references from other companies, especially if they are in a similar industry to the role you’re applying for. 

However, some companies have stricter policies and will ask that you provide your most recent employer as a reference.

Will my boss give me a bad reference?

Although it does sometimes happen, it’s unlikely that your former employer will give you a negative reference, especially if it’s done out of spite. 

This is because they risk legal action for submitting an unfair reference. By giving you a bad reference, they could open themselves up to legal hassle. 

That said, it’s possible that if you did perform negligently in your previous role - for example, if you were dismissed due to incompetence, gross misconduct or continuous negative behaviour - that the employer will provide a poor reference.

What to do if an employer gives an unfair bad reference

Legal action
If you believe you have received an unfair reference, then you are entitled to take legal action. 

You can only pursue legal action if you can demonstrate that the reference is misleading or inaccurate and that you’ve suffered a loss as a result.

A ‘loss’ could be having a job offer rescinded or being let go after starting at a new company because of what was written about you in a reference. 

Worried about receiving a negative reference?

Being concerned about the possibility of a bad reference is perfectly understandable. Finding a new job can be a stressful time - that’s why we always recommend working with a specialist recruitment service like Eden Scott. 

We take the worry out of finding a new job, helping you to navigate bumps in the road and providing advice on the application process. We can provide advice and guidance about references and help you overcome any stumbling blocks that arise. 

Next steps

Ready to move on? Take the first step. Send us your CV. 

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