How to get a reference, when refused one

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 - Job Application, Legal, references, tutorial


Roving with Eees
Creative Commons License photo credit: jblyberg

Ed asks: I was recently made redundant. One of the things I’ve learned is that many companies now forbid employees of that company to give references. How then do you get a reference from a former boss or co-worker who can give specific info on projects you worked on? Thank you, Ed

In answer:
The problem originated in North American, where there has been a marked increase in reference litigation. This never happened in Europe, but it now is. For instance:

  • EmployerA writes a reference about EmployeeB and sends it to EmployerC. On the strength of that reference, C employs B. B proves to be incompetent and a thief. B now sues A alleging loss and damage arising from a negligent or dishonest reference
  • Alternatively, A’s reference highlights C’s dishonesty and propensity to steal. B refuses to employ C and C sues A for defamation

Because of these risks, large corporate employers now often instruct their employees not to give references, and even write such conditions into the company operations manual. Any recommendations then often come from senior managers/directors or the HR department, acting on the advice of the HR and legal departments.

This leaves you in the position of contacting your former employer for permission to give their names as willing to give a reference for job application purposes. If they refuse, you are left without a remedy, as there is no obligation on an ex-employer to give a reference; unless you are in the UK, and there is regulation surrounding that type of work (eg: School teacher, child care, Financial services and FSA, etc). Worse, if a current employee were to write any kind of recommendation on a public web site – such as LinkedIn – this could be a breach of their contract of employment having broken the operations manual instructions, and possibly end in their dismissal.

If you have been laid off/made redundant, you need to get a written reference either before your exit date, or one written on company headed paper which you can replicate when necessary for job applications and hold the original for reference. Write to your old employer, and ask for a suitable written reference that you can hold on record – some may refuse and ask that you direct all reference requests to a contact point in HR.

Good Luck!

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