Can an Employer Refuse to Give a Reference?

Leaving a job is a big deal, whether it is on good or bad terms. This is more so the case if you are relying on a reference from your old job. But what happens if your employer refuses to give you a reference? Is it legal? What should you do?

Perhaps you already know they aren’t the most organised with the admin side of things. Or maybe, things haven’t ended positively and you are worried they might give you a bad reference.

In some jobs, getting that positive reference is a pivotal part of landing your dream role. In this guide, we’ll look at employer’s legal obligations when providing references, and what to do if your former employer refuses to provide one, or does not respond to the request.

What’s The Law on References for Employment?

Employers are under no legal obligation to provide you with a reference. This means they are within their rights to refuse should they wish to.

There are, however, a few circumstances where an employer must give a reference. One of these is if it is written within the contract of employment. In fact, it extends to any written promise to provide a reference. This can be a letter, a text or an email. Also, certain industries do require a reference and authorities such as the Financial Conduct Authority are an example.

On this same note, it is also not illegal for employers to write a bad reference. This doesn’t mean they can do this out of spite though. Anything that is written in it must be factual and backed up with evidence.

Why a Company May Refuse to Give a Reference

Has your ex employer refused to write a reference and you are left wondering why?

The most common reason for refusal is concerns about legal liability. Many companies are cautious about legal risks associated with the consequences of providing negative references. In this situation, they may only provide a limited reference.

This can leave a poor impression of the candidate with potential employers, which is unfortunately not deserved.

Company Policies on Limited References

It has become more common for companies to adopt a limited or no reference policy. There are a few reasons this has become common practice.

Companies are finding problems with committing to giving references and in fact, find it easier to refuse altogether.

When a reference is written, it must be based on facts rather than opinion. This line of preciseness is quite thin and there is always the possibility of an employee suing. Many employers simply decide it isn’t worth offering this service. It helps protect their business and reputation.

Also, when it comes to writing references, it’s a skill and someone that must be learned. Therefore, it costs the company money to train someone on the legalities of reference writing. Often, employers will not wish to give anyone this responsibility.

The simple fact of it is that references are not a legal requirement. Spending extra time on an ex employee has no benefit to the company.

What to Do if You Can’t Get a Reference from a Previous Employer?

If you have found yourself without a reference and are keen to make a good impression, there are still things to try.

Below are some things you can try if you need some form of written reference.

Ask an Ex Boss for a Rference.

It doesn’t hurt to ask, right?

This is more so the case if you had a good relationship with your boss. They may be willing to do one on the quiet for you, even if it is against company policy.

Ask a Colleague Instead

Now, granted this won’t impress your prospective employer quite as much.

However,  if you explain that company policy prevents management from writing references then they may see that this is the next best thing.

These colleagues worked with you day in and day out. They can probably provide more positives than those higher up.

Contact Someone From Management Who Now Works Elsewhere

Is there an old boss or area manager who no longer works for that company?

If so, they are no longer a contract and may be willing to go that extra mile for you. Especially if there was a good working relationship there. Obviously, this is only appropriate if they can vouch for your work ethic and overall attitude.

Gather Evidence on Performance

Have you got copies of any written conversations where you were praised on a particular project?

Anything like this shows your value and commitment. Perhaps you got a staff award or gift for your services offered? Anything you can show your new boss will help them build up a positive picture of you.

Obtain a Personal Reference Instead.

Explain to your prospective employer that you cannot ask your manager for a reference due to company policy.

Instead of having nothing to show, get someone close to you to write a character reference. A lot of the information will still be relevant, especially if they list your positive traits. Something is always better than nothing.

Request a Reference from a Previous Employer

If your ex boss isn’t willing to provide you with a reference then go back to your job before that.

Even if they have written one in the past, they may be willing to do another. They might just be able to give you a copy of the original one. You can then explain why you have this gap in references and make the extra effort to still get one.

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