Legislation overview

There is no detailed legislation specifically designed to deal with the general provision of references to employees.

However different legislation deals with different aspects, For example:

  • Defamation Act 2013 - Claims about references which have defamed the employee may fall within this legislation.
  • Equality Act 2010 - Alternatively, discriminatory acts committed by any employer after termination of an employee's contract of employment are within the remit of the Equality Act 2010. This will only cover issues with a reference which are linked to one of the nine protected characteristics. (The Act does not apply to Northern Ireland).
  • Employment Rights Act 1996.- Detrimental acts committed by a employer may fall within the detriment provisions.

The following legislation is also relevant:

  • The Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 may apply to attempts to disclaim liability for a reference.
  • The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 applies to the provision of references and employers engaged in the provision of financial services governed by this Act are bound to supply references.
  • The Data Protection Act 1998 may also apply to the processing of information in the provision of a reference.

Q: Can an employer refuse to provide a reference for an employee?

Q: Can an employer provide a bare minimum reference for an employee?

Q: What type of discrimination or detriment claim can arise if an employer refuses to give a reference?

Q: What issues should employers be aware of when taking up references?

Q: As the author of a reference, what duty of care does the previous employer owe to the prospective new employer who may rely on the reference?

Q: What should an employer consider before supplying a reference?

Q: What duties does an employer owe to the employee for whom they are writing a reference?

Q: Can an employer disclaim liability by putting a disclaimer on a reference?

Q: An employer has received a reference request that asks about sickness absence. The employee in question has had a high level of sickness absence over the last 12 months part of which relates to an operation. How should the employer respond?

Q: Is it safe for a former employer to omit mention of a suspected event of gross misconduct from a reference?

Q: An employer has received a reference request for an employee who is currently bringing a discrimination claim against them. How should the employer respond?

Q: How much compensation could employers be liable for if they supply an unfair reference?

Q: How do the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 apply to providing a reference?

Q: What do employers need to be aware of when making job offers conditional upon receiving satisfactory references?

Q: Is an employer liable for comments about an employee outside the context of a reference?

Q: Are there any future developments expected in the area of references?

You may also be interested in ...


Selection methods

An overview of candidate selection methods – from shortlisting to assessment – focusing on the interview stage and its purpose and pitfalls for both employer and candidate.

Read more