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Providing references

Updating author: Max Winthrop


  • Generally, there is no obligation on employers to provide references, although it is common practice to do so. (See Overview)
  • In certain situations, the employer must provide a reference. (See Requirement to provide a reference)
  • Some employers have a references policy setting out the procedure that the organisation will follow when it receives a reference request. (See References policy)
  • Failing to provide a reference, or failing to apply a references policy consistently, risks potential claims of discrimination and/or victimisation. (See Refusing to provide a reference, Discrimination and Victimisation)
  • As references contain personal information, employers should be aware of their data protection obligations when providing references. (See Data protection obligations)
  • When deciding on the content of the reference, the employer must balance its duty of care to the employee with its parallel duty to the prospective employer, as well as comply with contractual or sector-specific requirements. (See Content of reference)
  • It is not unlawful to provide a negative reference, provided that its content is true, accurate and fair and is not misleading. (See Negative or misleading references)
  • If a reference is unfair, inaccurate or discriminatory, there are various potential legal claims that an employee may issue against the employer. (See Enforcement and remedies)