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letter declining a reference
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Letter declining a reference

Letter declining a reference

Any reference you provide about an ex-employee must be a true, fair and accurate reflection of that individual. But - as the motto goes - if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all! This approach protects your position. At the same time, when declining a request, you must pick your words carefully. Our letter will keep you safe.

Reference requests

As a matter of good practice, many prospective employers request references on job applicants; some even make their offers of employment subject to the receipt of satisfactory documentation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach. However, as the law stands, an employee has no automatic right to a reference. So, if you're on the receiving end of a request, it's generally up to you whether or not you reply, provided your reason for not doing so doesn’t amount to either unlawful discrimination or unlawful victimisation. Some employers have a policy which says they'll provide "basic details only", e.g. job title, length of employment etc., and won't be drawn on the specifics of an ex-employee's employment history. Again, this is fine.

But, where you agree to provide a reference about an individual, anything you say must be true, accurate and fair and not misleading overall - this applies to telephone references too! But what if you don't have anything nice to say about your ex-employee?


Staying quiet

In this situation, it's best to politely decline the reference request - don't elaborate on your bad experience with their potential employee. For example, saying something like "This member of staff left us with nothing but problems following their departure" could easily land you in hot water. You should also refrain from giving any reason for your refusal, e.g. "We don't have anything positive to say about this individual". This too can infer a problem, even where one doesn't actually exist. But don't ignore these enquiries - it's more than likely you'll get a chasing letter, or a telephone call putting you on the spot.

Our Letter Declining a Reference can be used in these situations. It acknowledges a third-party employer's request, yet declines it without causing you any difficulty. If you are subsequently pressed for more information, don't stray from what it says. Finally, when it comes to dealing with reference requests, these should always be the responsibility of a senior employee, for example, a director or other manager. Inexperienced or junior staff should not be permitted to give references on behalf of the business.

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