Is it legal for employers to give a bad reference?

References can make or break an employment opportunity. A good reference can get you into otherwise unattainable positions, but a bad one can seriously hinder your career. But is it legal for an employer to be able to affect your future in this way? The employment law solicitors at Foys Solicitors discuss what you need to know.

The laws behind references

There are relatively few laws regarding the references themselves, considering the impact they can have. Generally, an employer is not obligated to provide information about a former employee’s performance, whether it is good or bad. The exception to this is if the work is in a regulated industry such as financial services, which requires a reference by law.

If your employer does give you a reference, then it must be a fair and accurate representation of your work. As bad references can be detrimental to a career, there is the option of claiming for damages if you believe that your reference is misleading or inaccurate. However, there are several different claims you can make.


Defamation is one of the most common claims made in regards to job references, and also one of the most misunderstood. The definition, in a legal sense, amounts to an untrue statement designed to harm the reputation of the target.

Defence against defamation hinges on whether the information was knowingly incorrect and whether or not it was provided with malice, but not necessarily on the actual validity of the information. Defamation is a surprisingly complex law, and before attempting to pursue a defamation case, you should contact our employment solicitors for sound legal advice and to ensure that your claim is worth taking further.

Unfair dismissal

There are cases where employees have been sacked or otherwise made redundant because their employers have been asked for a reference. Usually, this is a sign of the employee leaving for another job, prompting the employers to take the initiative. However, this can amount to unfair dismissal.

There are strict time limits on pursuing these types of claims, and every communication between you and your employer will be taken into account. Therefore, it’s important to start on the right foot by getting in touch with our unfair dismissal solicitors. We’ll help you pursue this case effectively and efficiently.


This is based on the fact that your previous employer has failed to take the proper care required to ensure that the reference is written correctly and the information is accurate. If you can prove that this is true and that it has caused damage to your future career as a result, then you have the basis for a negligence claim.

Negligence claims revolve around whether the employer can prove that they have made an effort to ensure that the information is correct. Proving that the reference is false will not necessarily win you the case if the employer demonstrates that they have taken sufficient measures to attempt to keep it truthful.

Call Foys today

Our solicitors are specialists in this field, which is perfect when you consider the complexity of the employment laws you’ll be forced to deal with. We also deal with business employment law, giving us a complete understanding of both sides of the case.

To find out more about how our employment solicitors, fill out our Online Form – or call your local Foys Solicitors office:

  • Doncaster – 01302 327 136
  • Retford – 01777 703 100
  • Worksop – 01909 500 511
  • Clowne – 01246 810 050
  • Rotherham – 01709 375 561
  • Sheffield (Waterthorpe) – 0114 251 1702
  • Sheffield (Chapeltown) – 0114 246 7609

Before you go, take a look at:

Enquire About Our Services Today

Book an initial FREE consultation or to find out more about our personal and business law services

Call the office nearest to you and speak to one of our professional specialists or fill out the form below