When you are looking for a new opportunity, joining a new company or about to leave your existing employment, it’s very likely you’ll need a reference. Here we take a look at how you go about obtaining a reference, the information it should contain, as well as your legal rights.
Providing you with a reference isn’t compulsory, not unless your contract says so, though in some regulated industries it is a legal requirement. However, it is important to ask for one, and to make sure that you have a reference that will give you the boost you need to gain a new job or to hold on to a job offer. In fact, as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development comments, “our 2008 ‘Recruitment, Retention and Turnover Survey’ showed that 25% of employers withdrew job offers during 2007 because someone lied or misrepresented their application”. Clearly such a statement highlights how important it is to get a reference that matches whatever you have told your future employer that you have achieved in your original job application.
This clearly doesn’t mean that you should write your own reference, as that in itself would discredit you and the reference should to be independent. In fact what you have to do is prove that you are worthy of being given a glowing reference by your work throughout the employment. Sometimes it may also help to provide your referees with some information about the role that you are either embarking on, or that you have applied for, which will help your referee write in a way which answers some of the questions your new employer may have.
“The purpose of references is to obtain information about a candidate’s employment history, qualifications, experience and/or an assessment of the candidate’s suitability for the post in question”, says the CIPD before adding that “Prospective employers may seek information on matters including length of employment, job title, brief details of responsibilities, abilities, overall performance, time-keeping and about any reasons for leaving.”
Employers also have a legal duty to ensure that the information you provide is accurate and not misleading. This means that if you have been well-disciplined during your term of employment and fulfilled the expectations of someone in your role, this should appear on your reference. It also means that you can take legal action against a former employer who deliberately or maliciously provides an inaccurate, negligent or misleading job reference.
It is quite legitimate for an employer to only provide a reference that confirms your dates of employment. Unfortunately, because of the increase in legal claims, this is increasingly becoming common practice and most recruiting employers understand that a brief, factual reference shouldn’t be interpreted negatively. Thankfully these references are still useful in that they will still enable you to prove your past work history.
Whichever type of reference you get however, once you’ve got the job you can ask your former employer to send you a copy. That’s your right under the Data Protection Act.
If you do find that your reference doesn’t provide the best picture of you, and what is written is not based on fact, you should raise your concerns. However, it’s best to avoid a legal dispute if you can. Try to resolve any issues you may have sensibly and calmly while you’re still working together. Most workplace disagreements can often be resolved. However, if you are required to leave the company, as part of any agreement make sure that you will be given a reference to help you on your way. Whatever you agree to do, work towards this aim and try to leave your employer on good terms. You’ll feel better for it, and remember that legal action should always be a last resort.