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The Truth About Bad References

What You Need to Know When Searching For A New Job

One of the most common ways an employer will assess a candidate’s character and learn more about their work ethic and suitability for the role is by examining references from previous employers. A glowing reference can improve your chances of standing out from the competition when applying for a competitive role, demonstrating your most valuable skills and attributes, while at the same time confirming you are an employee that is capable of performing the role.

A bad reference, on the other hand, can instantly destroy your chances of getting your dream job, and make it almost impossible to find a new employer. 

Unfortunately, in most parts of the world, giving a bad reference (or no reference at all) isn’t illegal. Here’s everything you need to know about bad references in the space.  

Can an Employer Give You a Bad Reference?

Though a bad reference can severely harm your chances of being hired in the  industry, they’re not illegal. There are very few laws that prohibit an employer, co-worker, or anyone else you approach from sharing negative information about you. However, the exact rules and guidelines around references vary from one country to the next.

Legal Regulations in Australia and New Zealand

In Australia and New Zealand, employers will not breach any Commonwealth privacy laws by providing personal information in a reference that relates directly to an employee’s job. However, they are often required to ask for consent when sharing specific details. 

Employers are required to carefully consider what information is appropriate to provide in a reference. Generally, employers aren’t permitted to disclose private information about their staff members, such as their medical history, due to Commonwealth privacy laws. However, the exact information an employee can share may vary based on state or region.

When Might An Employer Give a Bad Reference?

In most parts of the world, employers are permitted to share negative comments about an employee if they’re relevant and fair. Most local laws allow employers to comment on an employee’s conduct in the workplace, their performance, and other factors, such as poor attendance. 

However, employers typically are not permitted to share defamatory comments based solely on their dislike of an employee, or another irrelevant factor. 

Since employers have the freedom to discuss many factors relevant to a staff member’s employment during a reference, it’s crucial for employees to choose whom they ask for references from carefully. If you believe you didn’t perform according to the standards set by your employer during your time working for them, it might be best to forgo a reference. 

Negative references not only damage your chances of getting the next le you apply for, but they can also have a long-standing impact on your professional brand. If word spreads about your negative attributes, you may struggle to take the next step in your career. 

What to Do if You Receive a Bad Reference

Receiving a bad reference can be extremely detrimental to your future as an employee. That’s why it’s so important to hold yourself to high standards when working in any environment, regardless of whether you’re planning on seeking out a new job or not. 

If you’re given a bad reference by your previous  employer:

  • Know your legal rights: While employers are permitted to share negative insights into an employee, they can only do so when their statement is fair and accurate. If you believe that whatever your employer has said about you in a reference is incorrect, obtain a copy of the reference, and consider seeking out legal advice. 

  • Speak to your new employer: Talk to your would-be employer about the reference and challenge any aspects you believe to be unfair or unreasonable. If the reference is accurate, tackle the negative feedback head-on, and let your new employer know what influenced your performance previously, and how you plan on addressing these issues.

  • Talk to your former employer: Depending on your relationship with your current or former employer, it may be helpful to speak with them about the reference. Question the issues they raised and ask them whether there’s any chance they may be willing to change the reference. Apologising for any misconduct may help to resolve the issue amicably. 

  • Assess other references: It may be possible to mitigate the impact of a bad reference by providing other, complementary references to your new employer. Look at statements you’ve received from other colleagues, co-workers, and employers in the past, and draw attention to these when connecting with your new employer. 

Talk to your Recruitment Consultant

You can also consider speaking to your recruitment company for some extra advice. They may be able to offer insights on how you can reduce the impact of a bad reference or seek out better commentaries from other people in your history. They can also help you to develop your professional brand, so you still make a positive impact on new employers

Worried About Getting A Bad Reference?

If you are worried that you will get a bad reference from your employer because of something that happened or simply because you handed in your notice, have backups or another couple of references that with any luck should outshine your not so good one.

If you think it might be time to seek out a new position, get in touch with us. We can provide you with information on the current job market for the roles you're looking for, and look at your future goals and give you ideas on the best next steps.

And remember to check out our latest vacancies - We might even the ideal role for you!


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