Provision of references, case 1

Case ref: 4.1/August 04

Summary of case

A reference from a previous employer led to a cessation of a member's current employment. The reference simply stated that he had been an employee and "was required to resign".

Advice requested

PCS sought advice on the prospects of challenging the decision to terminate employment.

Key advice provided by Thompsons

The solicitor confirmed how the law applies in this area. He said: 

"The law relating to references can be summarised briefly as follows. Firstly, there is no general duty on a previous employer to provide a reference. If a reference is provided, it must be "true, accurate and fair". The reference should not give a misleading impression, but does not always have to be full and comprehensive - see for example Bartholomew v London Borough of Hackney (1999) IRLR 246." 

The solicitor also touched on the impact of the Data Protection Act and how this can be used to receive a copy of the reference. He confirmed: 

"With regard to the request for a reference, the employer should be referred to the Data Protection Act 1998 Code of Practice, Part 2 - Employment Records, at section 10. This makes it clear than an employer/prospective employer who receives a reference, has a duty to disclose it to the subject of the reference. With regard to the application forms, there should be no difficulty with obtaining copies of those from the Department/HBOS, if (he) has not kept a copy himself."

Legal Department comment

With regard to this particular case, officials may wish to note that the solicitor believed the reference was "probably fair".

Further information on how the law applies can be obtained from pages 34-35 of the 2005 Labour Research Department booklet Law at Work.

Updated 28 Jan 2017

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