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

No matter what’s in the reference, it cannot be:

  • misleading
  • inaccurate
  • discriminatory

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

You can try to speak directly with 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 get other references
  • discuss having a probationary period

See a copy of your reference

If you want to check what was in your reference, you can ask either:

  • the person who gave the reference
  • the person who received the reference

It's a good idea to make the request in writing.

Under data protection law, you might not be able to see your reference if the employer provided it with the agreement that it stays confidential.

For more on data protection law and your rights, see 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 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For example, if your job offer was withdrawn as a result of the reference.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.