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Overview of the Reference letter

This document is GDPR compliant.

You do not have to give a work reference letter, but if you do, it must be fair, accurate and appropriate. Use this recommendation letter when you seek to write a reference about a current or former employee. Ensure you don't fall foul of the law by using this letter to create a reference for an employee. This employment reference letter covers situations where a current employee has applied for a new position, or left your employ and been offered a new job.

Use this reference letter:

  • when you are writing a reference about a current employee
  • when you are writing a reference about a former employee
  • only for employees based in England, Wales or Scotland

This reference letter covers:

  • the employee's potential/new role
  • the employer's policy on giving references
  • the requirement that the reference be given in confidence and good faith
  • information about the employee's performance, abilities, attendance, disciplinary record, character and suitability (if relevant)

A reference letter, or letter of recommendation, is a positive endorsement which outlines someone’s work experience, skills, expertise, personal qualities, and/or academic performance.

An employer does not have to give a reference by law unless it’s:

  • in writing that the employer will provide one (eg in a contract of employment); or

for certain financial services jobs regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) or Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) – usually for jobs known as 'controlled functions' (you can find out more about controlled functions on the FCA website

If an employer gives a reference it must be accurate and fair. The employer giving the reference can decide how much they include.

References can be short or long – for example, a ‘basic reference’ or a ‘detailed reference’.

References should not be misleading or include irrelevant personal information. If opinions are provided, then this should be justified with evidence to support the opinion. For example, if an employee has a poor performance warning against their record, then the reference should not say that the employee performed well in the job.

Ask a lawyer if:

  • your employee has any criminal convictions
  • your employee is based outside of England, Wales or Scotland

This document is also sometimes called: Reference letter

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