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Dealing With Bad References

When applying for a new job, your new employer will almost always ask for references before formally accepting you for the position. However, your previous employer is under no obligation to give you a reference - and if they DO provide a reference, it does not need to be a good one. It is the duty of your previous employer to provide an accurate reference, but the content of this reference can vary from simply stating that you were employed there, to detailing any absence issues or disciplinary action taken against you.

You may not even know that your former employer has given you a bad reference: your job offer from the new company may be withdrawn on receipt of references with no reason given.

When looking to move to a new employer, it is important to ensure that you are leaving on a good note, where possible, not only to make it more likely that you will receive a good reference, but also in order not to burn your bridges in case you should work for the same employer in the future.

Sadly, if a bad reference is provided and it is justified, then there is nothing you can do. If, however, you feel that a bad reference that has been given is misleading and has harmed your prospects of future employment without justification, then it may be possible to sue your ex-employer for "negligent misstatement", or you may be able to take them to an employment tribunal if you feel that the bad reference is a result of discrimination.

If you are planning to sue your ex-employer for "negligent misstatement", you must be able to prove three points.

  • That the information provided in the reference is indeed misleading.
  • That the provision of this misleading information has had a detrimental effect on your future employment opportunities.
  • That your employer demonstrated negligence when providing this poor reference.

It is worth bearing in mind, however, that the legal route can be longwinded and not always successful, so should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

If there are certain supervisory staff at your previous organisation who are more likely than others to give you a good reference, then it goes without saying that these are the people whose contact details should be passed on to your new employer. However, your new employer is well within their rights to ask for your reasons for leaving and for any disciplinary details, so hiding these would be unwise.

Ultimately, honesty is the best policy. If you have left your old role for a negative reason, such as being dismissed or due to clashes with former colleagues, it is advisable to tell your new employer, explaining the situation. While you may feel that it will harm your employment prospects, it will cause even more damage if you hide things that are likely to come out in the wash.

If you are looking for a new job be sure to have a look at our current jobs updated regularly and for a wide variety of sectors.

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