Advice: Does my employer have to give me a reference if I decide to take a new job?

Pat Hutchinson MBE.
Pat Hutchinson MBE.

By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey

Q: I have been working for my current employer for three years. I am applying for a new job and in the application pack they have requested a reference. Does my current employer have to give me a reference and can I ask to see this?

A: Usually, you don’t have a right to a reference from your employer. But your employer does have to give you a reference in some situations, for example:

• if your contract says they have to give you a reference

• where the reference is needed by a regulatory body. This might be a body like the Financial Conduct Authority so they can make sure people employed to give financial advice are qualified to do this.

There are different reasons why your employer might refuse to give you a reference. If you think your employer won’t give you a reference for a reason related to your race, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion or belief or gender reassignment this might be discrimination. You should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

Do I have a right to see a reference written about me?

Your previous or current employer doesn’t have to show you a reference they’ve written about you. So if you want to see a reference that’s been written about you, you should make a request to the employer the reference was sent to. You should make this request under the Data Protection Act. The employer will then work out whether they can show you the reference, in line with the Data Protection Act. You can find out more about making a request to see a reference on the Information Commissioner’s website at: Or you can call their helpline on 0303 123 1113. The helpline is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Can my employer write a bad reference about me?

Your employer has a duty to write an accurate reference about you, and shouldn’t mislead the employer asking for the reference. But some information shouldn’t be included in a reference, unless you agree to it. This is information like your medical records, or information about spent criminal convictions.

Your employer also mustn’t give information in a reference or another document, for example, an email, which is inaccurate or which is deliberately wrong or misleading. If this has happened, you may be able to take action against your employer.

If you’re in this situation, you should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice – go to or call at: Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Dunanney Centre, Rathmullan Drive, Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, BT37 9DQ. Telephone advice is available 9am – 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (Lunch 1:00 - 1:30pm), email advice is available at