There is usually no obligation on your employer to provide a reference. The employers of school and sixth form college staff are required by statutory guidance to seek references as part of their pre-employment checks. It could be argued that references are essential to getting a job in a school or college. Without references, it is virtually impossible to do so.
Consequently, an employer who exercises a ‘no references’ policy is likely to be acting in breach of their implied duty of trust and confidence (see contracts of employment). It is accepted practice in most schools and colleges that references will be provided if requested, since refusal to do so could result in adverse consequences for the employee.
Contact the NEU AdviceLine if your employer refuses to provide references.
You do not have an automatic right to see references provided in confidence, although some employers work on the basis that it is good practice to share the content of references with employees before sending them. If you make a request for a reference from the supplying employer or the recipient, they can refuse because there is an exemption under data protection legislation in relation to job references. If your employer will not provide you with a copy of the reference, you may request a copy from the organisation to which the reference was sent.
You must make your request in writing and provide enough information to allow the recipient to identify you. Your request should receive a reply within 20 working days.
If you have asked for a copy of the reference from both your employer and prospective employer and you have been denied access, contact the AdviceLine.
Provided you bring the matter to their attention, your employer must rectify the error before submitting the reference. If the reference has been submitted already but the error is trivial, e.g. your name is misspelt, you can inform the recipient yourself.
If the reference has been submitted already and the error is likely to cause prejudice, for example, you are said to have had more sick days than you did, your head teacher or the referee should write to notify the recipient of the true position.
Your employer owes a duty of care to the prospective employer, and to you, as the subject of the reference. A reference must be true, accurate and fair. It must not contain an unfair or misleading impression overall, even if any discrete components are factually correct. An inaccurate or unfair reference may be challenged by you or your prospective employer.
In most cases, there is very little you can do other than consider using another referee. It must be accepted that a reference is not always going to be a glowing testimonial. It is the opinion of the referee, but it should be reasonably objective.
Contact the AdviceLine if you believe the author has given you a bad reference out of spite. You will need to prove that what has been said about you is both false and motivated by malice. It must be obvious to someone who knows neither of you that the author wrote the reference maliciously.
A bland reference is not necessarily a poor reference, but it may require the prospective employer to do some investigating. They may ask for specific details or for a reference from another referee.