If an employer provides a Reference there is a duty of care to provide a Reference which is true, accurate and fair. It must not give a misleading impression overall. An employer who provides a Reference owes a duty of care to both the addressee and the employee. That said, some employers seek to restrict themselves to factual statements, which are easily verifiable. Some employers seek to limit a Reference to the commencement and cessation dates, starting and finishing salaries and job titles.
Many companies now have written policies in place on giving References. The policy should set out not only what information will be provided, the limit of liability for providing a reference, but also, most importantly who may give a reference.
An employer must not abuse its position in the issuing of a Reference. Recently, a Northern Ireland employer, the Provincial Car Agency, failed to provide an employee with a Reference despite repeated requests. To make matters worse, when the Reference was requested the employer responded to the employee by stating : “You are the big girl who wanted a baby and did not want to work”. Mrs Wilson was awarded £6,000 for the injury her feelings and a further £3,500 damages for what the tribunal described as “a deliberate attempt on the part of the respondents to discredit the claimant, to humiliate her before the tribunal and to sully her reputation”. For more information on the Industrial Tribunal case of Helen Wilson –v- the Provincial Car Agency, go to http://bbc.in/fTSK2U .