If you get a bad reference
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 don’t have enough experience for a job or say that you were dismissed.
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 subject access request 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
See more details on how to make a subject access request from ICO.
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. They 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.