Do I need to provide a reference?

There is generally no legal obligation for an employer to provide a reference letter for a former employee, unless they operate in a regulated industry, such as financial services.

However, in any circumstances in which a previous employer is either obliged to provide a reference, or agrees to this, it must be fair and accurate. This means that, in some cases, it may be better to politely decline to provide a reference, rather than say anything negative. Writing a reference should never be used by an employer as an opportunity to sabotage an individual’s attempts to secure employment elsewhere. The reference is instead a chance for an employer to support an employee in recognition of their service, in this way maintaining a positive professional relationship, where paths may cross again, as well as demonstrating the company’s professionalism to the wider working community.

There is no right or wrong format when it comes to writing an employee reference letter. The contents of the reference itself can be brief and to the point, or more detailed, depending on how much the referee has to say about the employee. However, importantly, if a reference is too short, it may convey the impression that either the referee does not know the candidate very well or does not fully endorse them. Equally, a reference that is too long runs the risk of inundating the prospective new employer with too much unnecessary information. The reference should therefore be concise, focusing on a few key matters.

In circumstances where it is impossible to comment with any accuracy or fairness on anything other than the employee’s job title and employment dates, the reference letter should be limited to this to avoid saying anything misleading.

References should always be accurate and fair. If a reference is not correct – for example, it is misleading, inaccurate, or discriminatory – the employee could challenge it. This would usually mean approaching the employer in the first instance to try to resolve the issue. If this does not result in agreement, the employee may be able to bring a claim against the employer, either to the Employment Tribunal or civil courts, depending on the circumstances.

If you have any concerns about this subject or require general advice, contact us at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk and we can discuss.

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