Employment References

With limited exceptions*, generally an employee has no legal right to a reference. However, as it is usual practice to give and receive references, alarm bells may ring if a future employer cannot secure a reference from a former employer. A sensible employer would only offer a job subject to receipt of a satisfactory reference and there is no contractual relationship until that reference is received.

A Settlement Agreement is an opportunity to create a legal obligation to provide a reference. If a former employer subsequently fails to provide that reference it will be in breach of contract.

A reference might cover the following:

  1. Role(s)
  2. Start/end dates
  3. Performance
  4. Disciplinary matters
  5. Honesty and integrity
  6. Absences
  7. Time-keeping
  8. Reason for leaving

One approach to a reference is to say that it costs an employer nothing, so why not make it comprehensive. Another approach is to say that, depending on your job sector, references are often only sought after you have been offered the job and it is mainly to check that you were not being economical with the truth in describing your job history. It is not unusual for a corporate reference (as opposed to a personal reference from a friendly former colleague) to be basic and simply confirm your name, role(s) and start/end date, together with disclaimers as to liability. References are one of those things where less is sometimes more.

When renegotiating a Settlement Agreement it is sometimes best to treat a reference almost as an afterthought. This is because if you are asking for greater compensation plus a reference, an employer may be quick to agree to a reference (which costs it nothing) but deny the greater compensation, arguing it has met you halfway.  

If you’d like more information on any of the issues above, give one of our employment experts a call on 0113 201 4900 for a free, initial discussion.

(* Exceptions may include where the refusal to give a reference is discriminatory, constitutes victimisation or where certain employees are engaged in the financial services sector.)

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