As long as it’s fair and accurate, a reference can show that you are not suitable for a job.
For example, a reference can show you do not have enough experience for a job or say that you were dismissed.
4. When a bad reference can be challenged
A reference cannot be misleading, inaccurate or discriminatory, no matter what’s in the reference.
For example, if a reference said you were investigated for stealing at work, this could be misleading if the investigation found that you did not steal.
How to challenge a reference
If you suspect a reference was not fair or accurate, or led to discrimination, you can try to challenge the reference.
Speak to the new employer
If you feel a reference has been misleading or inaccurate, you can try to speak directly to the person hiring you.
It may help to:
- ask about their concerns with your reference
- address their concerns – for example, show evidence if your reference was misleading or inaccurate
- offer to supply additional references
- discuss having a probationary period to assess your suitability to the job
Get a copy of a reference
If you want to check what was in your reference, you can try to request a copy of from either:
- the person who wrote the reference
- the person who received the reference
It is best to request a copy of your reference in writing.
Make a formal 'subject access request'
If you are not able to get a copy of a reference, you can request it formally by making a ‘subject access request’ (SAR).
If you want to make a SAR you will need to:
- make the request in writing – usually to the employer who received the reference
- state clearly what you want a copy of, for example, your employment reference or emails they received from the person giving the reference
Options for taking legal action
If you are not able to resolve an issue with a reference, it might be possible to:
- make a tribunal claim
- make a court claim
Make a tribunal claim
If you think an employer has discriminated against you in a reference you can make an employment tribunal claim.
You need to let Acas know you’re going to make a claim. We will offer you the option of ‘early conciliation’ to try and resolve the issue without going to a tribunal.
You usually need to start a claim within 3 months of the date the discrimination happened.
Make a court claim
You might be able to take your previous employer to court if:
- their reference was misleading or inaccurate
- you ‘suffered a loss’ – for example, your job offer was withdrawn
If you want to make a court claim you should seek legal advice first.