My employer refuses to give me a satisfactory reference. What should I do?

There is no legal obligation to provide a reference except in a few sectors, such as financial services, but any reference that is provided must be true, accurate and fair. Your employer owes a duty both to you and any prospective employer.

In some circumstances, there may be an implied duty on your employer to provide a reference, based on custom and practice.

It would be unlawful victimisation to refuse a reference because, for example, someone has brought, or threatened to bring, discrimination proceedings, or engaged in 'whistleblowing'.

Many employers have a policy of only providing a reference with very basic information (e.g. to confirm dates of employment and job title).

The text of references can sometimes be agreed as a term of a negotiated settlement and annexed to a settlement/compromise agreement, along with a promise that no oral reference will be given. Speak to your union rep and see whether something suitable can be agreed.

If your employer categorically refuses to give you a reference, consider whether anyone outside your employer can be approached for a reference, for example someone you worked with in the recent past who no longer works for your employer.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.