Providing references is a key stage in securing a new role. With many recent cases of identity fraud and false educational claims, employers have significantly improved their reference checking procedures.

Whilst it is standard practice to provide details of a reference to prospective employers, a series of legal cases challenging what employers can and cannot say regarding a past employee have made many employers reluctant to provide references.

Is a previous employer obliged to provide you with a reference?

No. Your former employer or employers are under no legal obligation to provide a reference unless there was an express contractual obligation to do so. Furthermore, if one is given, there is no obligation for it to be comprehensive.

If an employer provides a reference what can they say?

Anyone providing a reference has a duty to take reasonable care not to give misleading information about the employee. This means they should avoid being unfairly selective in the information they provide, and should avoid including facts or opinions in such a manner that would create a false or mistaken inference in the mind of the prospective employer.

Does a previous employer have to reveal any problems that occurred during your employment?

Where an employee has performed to an unacceptably low level or has been dismissed for a reason which would cast doubt on his or her suitability for a new position, the employer will generally be faced with three options:

  • To provide no reference at all

  • To provide only a basic, factual reference, giving the dates of employment and the job title

  • To provide a detailed account, including references to the bad issues as well as the good, using reasonable care not to give misleading information

It is essential to brief your nominated reference before any prospective new employer reaches out to them. Providing a full reference requires an investment in time and it should not be taken for granted that a previous manager or colleague will simply drop everything to produce a glowing reference for you.