Can Employers Really Give Bad Reviews?

Job references play a huge role in the hiring process as they provide potential employers with insights into an individual’s past performance and behaviour in work. However, many people wonder if their previous employer can leave a reference, and what they would base this reference on.

The Legality of Giving Bad Employee References

You might be wondering if it’s illegal to give employees bad references. In short, unfortunately, no. It’s completely legal to give a bad reference as an employer to former employees as long as it’s fair and truthful. A reference cannot ever be misleading, inaccurate, or discriminatory.

Writing a review also isn’t an obligation, and the employer can decide against giving a reference.

Why an Employer Would Give a Bad Reference

There are numerous reasons why an employer might give a bad reference, and it’s often because of the employee’s past behaviour, performance, or conduct within the workplace.

Employee Character Traits

An employer might mention characteristics that negatively impact the workplace. For example, if an employee frequently exhibited poor teamwork and unreliability, these traits could be highlighted in the reference.

Disciplinary Actions

If an employee has previously had disciplinary actions against them, it’s often included in a bad reference. Disciplinary actions can range from written warnings to more severe measures like suspensions.

If an employer decides to share this information with a new employer, it serves as a warning about potential issues they could face with the individual. It also reflects the employer’s commitment to maintaining a productive work environment.


If an employee is dismissed, it can be included in a bad reference. Reasons for dismissal could include poor performance, misconduct, or violation of company policies and would be stated as such in the reference. This information helps future employers assess the risk of hiring the individual.

If an employee was dismissed due to unethical behaviour, this could make the new employer reconsider his hiring decision due to the impact these issues might have on their organisation.

What to Do If You Receive a Bad Reference

If you’ve been given a bad reference that you think was misleading, inaccurate, or discriminatory, you may be able to claim damages in court. An employer must always be able to back up the bad reference with, for example, examples of written warnings to the employee.

If you’ve been given a bad reference, there are steps you can take to challenge it, but you need to prove it’s caused damage to you. For instance, if the job offer has been withdrawn.

First of all, you can speak to your potential new employer. Ask about their concerns and address them with evidence against it if you have it. You can also offer references from other employers or request a probation period in the new role. If this doesn’t fix the issue, you can take legal action.

If you want to check what exactly was in your reference, you can ask the referee directly or your potential employer.

Taking Legal Action

To take legal action against an employer who gave a bad reference, there are two options:

  • You can make your claim to the employment tribunal. If you contact the employment tribunal, you can make your claim within a maximum of three months from when the bad reference happened.
  • You can make your claim at any other tribunal, like the county court, especially if you have suffered a loss because of inaccurate or misleading references.

Don’t let a bad reference hinder your career. Contact us today for advice on bad references and we can provide the legal support you need.

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