A guide to references

In almost all cases, an employer will ask you to give them the names and contact details of people who can give you references. This is usually to check that you have worked where you said you did and you really are a good employee.

However, many people don’t know where they stand legally when it comes to references. We’re here to help…


I haven’t resigned yet – do I have to give them my reference details?

If you’re looking for a new job then chances are you don’t want your boss to find out until after you hand in your resignation.

Luckily, most employers understand this and don’t ask for references until after they offer you the job. This is called a conditional job offer and they CAN change their mind if they then get a bad reference for you.

Conditional job offer – can you lose a job because of a bad reference


Does my old boss/company have to give me a reference?

In a word, no. Your former employer is under NO legal obligation to give you a reference. Also, if they DO decide to give you a reference then there’s no rule about how long or detailed it has to be. 


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. However, some companies are increasingly refusing to give references because they’re worried about legal action.

Usually you will need to provide 1-2 work references and a personal reference – so choose that person carefully! If the company is satisfied by the majority of your references then they may not argue about one being refused.

Personal references - how they can help


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 if you were disciplined at your last job then they could include that on your reference. However, many employers are scared to give bad references because anything considered to be not 100% accurate could be grounds for legal action. If you find out that you have been unfairly given a bad reference then you could possibly sue.


What can I do if my old employer provides a bad reference?

If you believe your past employer's reference 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.

Discrimination guide


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.


What if this is my first job?

If you don’t have a previous employer then provide two personal references instead. You could also include your teacher or a lecturer at uni who can vouch for your school work.

Personal references examples


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Bad reference = job offer withdrawn?

 Bad references

Can a bad reference mean your new employer can change their mind?

We take a look at job offers and where you stand!

Job offers - what they mean

A friendlier reference?

 Friendly references

There's more than one kind of job reference!

Make sure you choose your personal reference wisely...

Personal references - dos and don'ts

Reference templates...

 References template

Want to make sure your personal reference is well written and professional?

Send your referee our easy-to-follow reference template!

Character reference template

Is your reference illegal?

 Illegal references

Have you lost a job because of a bad reference and believe it was due to discrimination?

Racial discrimination guide 

Ageism discrimination guide