Well, check you out! If your application has reached the
references stage, it's a pretty sure bet you're a strong candidate for that retail job. Nevertheless, a bad reference could mean the difference between hearing "We'd like to make you an offer" and "We've decided to go with someone else".
Of course you're not going to be stupid enough to pick people who will say negative things about you, but what if a potential employer asks to speak to your former boss/arch nemesis? How much is that person obliged to say? The truth is that former employers can say as little or as much as they want. The subject of references has been quite contentious for some companies - to the point where some companies might choose not to give a reference at all.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not illegal for former employers to give bad references. If they choose to give a reference at all, they are, however, legally obliged to be accurate and fair. That includes not being selective about truthful information with the purpose of being misleading. For example: if they say customers in your store complained a lot and nothing else, it may sound like it was your fault, when it might have been due to something completely out of your control.
If there was a problem between you and your ex-employer, and they're asked to give a reference, they may chose to:
- Give no reference at all.
- Give only the basic information about dates of employment and job title.
- Give a detailed account of any negative issues.
If you've received a bad reference that has cost you a job offer, your first step should be to speak with the recruiter. As a strong candidate, you have a good chance of explaining the situation. The key is to be straightforward and talk about what you have learned from the experience.
If you feel a reference letter being supplied to potential employers is proving detrimental to your jobseeking, you can request a copy of it under the 1998 Data Protection Act, which gives workers "the right to have a copy of the information that an organisation holds about them". There are some exceptions, such as if the letter was considered confidential. For more information on the Act, visit the Information Commissioner's Office.
The bottom line is, if you feel like the person gave unfairly harmful information, the onus is on you to prove:
- The information was misleading or inaccurate.
- The information was detrimental in your standing with a potential employer.
- The person was negligent in giving misleading or inaccurate information.
If you feel the above points apply, then you need to get down to the solicitor's office and seek legal advice.
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