Providing a job reference

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 do not 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 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

Find out how to make a SAR on the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) website

Options for taking legal action

If you are not able to resolve an issue with a reference, it might be possible to do one of the following:

  • make a claim to an employment tribunal
  • make a different type of court claim (a county court claim)

Making an employment tribunal claim

If you think an employer has discriminated against you in a reference, you have the option to make an employment tribunal claim.

You first need to let Acas know you’re going to make a claim.

You usually need to start a claim within 3 months of the date the discrimination happened.

Making a different court claim

You might be able to take an employer to a county court if their reference was misleading or inaccurate and led to you ‘suffering a loss’.

For example, if your job offer was withdrawn as a result of the reference.

If you want to make a county court claim, first you might want to get legal advice on your situation to understand what will be involved.