Bad references

Not every boss will have nice things to say about you, and when potential employers contact them for a reference they won’t always want to give glowing accounts of your time there. 

So what happens if you get a bad reference?




Can my employer give me a bad reference?

Yes and no. Many people mistakenly believe that your boss can’t give you a bad reference by law, but that’s not entirely true…

References just have to be accurate and truthful. So for example, if you were disciplined at your last job for misconduct, they could mention it on your reference as long as it was properly investigated at the time. As long as it's not misleading, they aren't doing anything wrong by giving you a bad reference.

However, some employers are scared to give bad references because anything considered to be not 100% accurate could be grounds for legal action, so will often just give the basic facts about your employment with them rather than focusing on character references.


What can I do if a previous employer provides a bad reference?

If you think the statements made in the reference are untrue and believe that it then unfairly harmed your future work prospects you may be able to sue for ‘negligent misstatement’. To do so, you must show that:

  • The information in the reference is misleading
  • Providing this misleading information has had a negative effect on your future employment
  • Your employer was negligent in providing a reference.

Alternatively, if you think there is an element of discrimination involved, you can bring your former employer to an employment tribunal. Either way, it's time to seek legal help.


What if my employer refuses to give a reference?

If an employer refuses to give you a reference then it may ring warning bells in the ears of your new boss, especially if they gave you a conditional offer on the basis of hearing a good reference. However, some companies are increasingly refusing to give references because they’re worried about legal action so it's not an uncommon situation.

However, if you’ve provided a list of references who all say good things about you which satisfies the company, then they may not argue about one being refused.


How do I make sure my reference will be good?

You can’t 100% be sure but if you have a positive relationship with your company or boss and are leaving on good terms then you can ask them to make sure. They don’t have to legally tell you but they can choose to if they want to put your mind at rest.

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