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Dismissed Due To Bad Reference

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A friend of mine has been dismissed from her new job after just a couple of weeks on the basis of a bad reference from her previous employer. She's obtained a copy of the reference and discovered that it contains apparently malicious lies, which she thinks are retribution from her previous manager for leaving her previous job. She worked for her previous company for 18 months, apparently without major issue, before changing jobs for better pay and convenience. After two weeks in her new job, she felt that she was settling in well and was enjoying the work; her dismissal was a complete bolt from the blue.

What should she do now? Presumably she has some legal recourse for her unfair dismissal, possibly with her previous company, since that was the source of the reference. Would she expect to win such a case, and, if so, what would be fair compensation for the loss of her job?

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It is illegal to give a false or malicious reference. You can sue the business and the individual. Tell your friend to go and see a lawyer who specialises in such law - a good one will give a 30 or 40 minute free consultancy on what the options are.

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It is illegal to give a false or malicious reference. You can sue the business and the individual. Tell your friend to go and see a lawyer who specialises in such law - a good one will give a 30 or 40 minute free consultancy on what the options are.

Thanks TMT! She's reluctant to get lawyers involved, but I thought she'd have a reasonable case for compensation. I've seen the reference myself, and it is just ridiculous. I don't think her previous manager can have been that bright, to tell the truth.

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Thanks TMT! She's reluctant to get lawyers involved, but I thought she'd have a reasonable case for compensation. I've seen the reference myself, and it is just ridiculous. I don't think her previous manager can have been that bright, to tell the truth.

Sometimes you have to take legal recourse

This sounds awful

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I'm surprised the new employer has taken it at face value. It seems very transparent based on what you've said.

She was also surprised and disappointed that her new employer didn't take the time to discuss the reference before sacking her. They simply said that it was company policy not to employ anybody with a bad reference.

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This exact scenario happened to my sister when she was training as a doctor. By all accounts, she was very good and competent, but one of the senior members of staff left in disgrace after being on the receiving end of numerous allegations of sexual harrassment.

Although the allegations were anonymous, the remaining staff made it very clear to my sister that they thought it was her, and when it came to the end of her fixed-term contract, and she needed to give a current employers reference, it turned out that the reference was malicious lies all the way through.

My sister actually had documentary evidence that most of the statements in the reference were false (e.g. the reference stated that she was constantly late, rarely getting in in time for rounds at 9am, but she had verified attendance records for 7:30 am per-round meetings, etc.)

She got advice from her union, who basically said that from the documents she had provided, that this case was as clear cut as it could possibly be. However, they did warn that this type of case can drag on for a very long time because this is a common tactic to get people to drop claims for unfair references. The problem for her was that until the matter was resolved, she was unemployable as a doctor in the UK, and even once that was resolved, there is always the "no smoke without fire" syndrome - as if your new employer knows that you've sued a previous employer, was it definitely because the employer was unfair, or is this employee a troublemaker?

In the end, now unemployed, she had contacted all the temp agencies in the UK, but none could accept her until the reference issue was resolved. One however, passed her CV onto a temp agency in Australia, and it was through them that she ended up working on the Gold Coast. Given the distance and in order to put the whole saga behind here, she decided not to pursue the case any further.

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This exact scenario happened to my sister when she was training as a doctor. By all accounts, she was very good and competent, but one of the senior members of staff left in disgrace after being on the receiving end of numerous allegations of sexual harrassment.

Although the allegations were anonymous, the remaining staff made it very clear to my sister that they thought it was her, and when it came to the end of her fixed-term contract, and she needed to give a current employers reference, it turned out that the reference was malicious lies all the way through.

My sister actually had documentary evidence that most of the statements in the reference were false (e.g. the reference stated that she was constantly late, rarely getting in in time for rounds at 9am, but she had verified attendance records for 7:30 am per-round meetings, etc.)

She got advice from her union, who basically said that from the documents she had provided, that this case was as clear cut as it could possibly be. However, they did warn that this type of case can drag on for a very long time because this is a common tactic to get people to drop claims for unfair references. The problem for her was that until the matter was resolved, she was unemployable as a doctor in the UK, and even once that was resolved, there is always the "no smoke without fire" syndrome - as if your new employer knows that you've sued a previous employer, was it definitely because the employer was unfair, or is this employee a troublemaker?

In the end, now unemployed, she had contacted all the temp agencies in the UK, but none could accept her until the reference issue was resolved. One however, passed her CV onto a temp agency in Australia, and it was through them that she ended up working on the Gold Coast. Given the distance and in order to put the whole saga behind here, she decided not to pursue the case any further.

That is an astonishing and very worrying story. My friend is also very worried about being branded a troublemaker within her profession, but without a good (or just neutral) reference she will find it very difficult to get a new job. I don't think emigrating to Australia is a viable option for her!

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It's unfair but just move on. There's little or no recourse to the present employer and would she want to return after, what's really a breach of trust in that, they were prepared to take the lies on a reference over their direct experience and contact with her. Pursuing it could be all consuming and the victory, if there is one, pyrrhic.

You could maybe threaten the author of the reference with litigation, from the angle of getting them to write a letter admitting the malicious nature of their reference but, you never know that they weren't just using it as a convenient excuse and intending to get rid of her anyway.

I've had it many times with personal friends/partners etc. where just because your relationship is ok with them you're supportive of their employment tales of woe. Usually by the time you're hearing the third iteration you begin to wonder if it's not six of one - or worse.

Having said all that, the recent high profile given to the issue of libel and the expense to some prominent celebrities, a well worded letter might bear fruit.

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It's unfair but just move on. There's little or no recourse to the present employer and would she want to return after, what's really a breach of trust in that, they were prepared to take the lies on a reference over their direct experience and contact with her. Pursuing it could be all consuming and the victory, if there is one, pyrrhic.

You could maybe threaten the author of the reference with litigation, from the angle of getting them to write a letter admitting the malicious nature of their reference but, you never know that they weren't just using it as a convenient excuse and intending to get rid of her anyway.

I've had it many times with personal friends/partners etc. where just because your relationship is ok with them you're supportive of their employment tales of woe. Usually by the time you're hearing the third iteration you begin to wonder if it's not six of one - or worse.

Having said all that, given the recent high profile given to the issue of libel and the expense to some prominent celebrities, a well worded letter might bear fruit.

I've known her a very long time (but she's not or has ever been a partner), and I know that she's generally diligent and easy to get on with. She's never had any work issues of this kind before; indeed, she was utterly shocked at her dismissal.

Also, she can't move on very easily. She's virtually unemployable with a reference like that.

Edit: She has it in writing that the only reason for her dismissal was the bad reference from her previous employer.

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I've known her a very long time (but she's not or has ever been a partner), and I know that she's generally diligent and easy to get on with. She's never had any work issues of this kind before; indeed, she was utterly shocked at her dismissal.

Also, she can't move on very easily. She's virtually unemployable with a reference like that.

Edit: She has it in writing that the only reason for her dismissal was the bad reference from her previous employer.

Absolutely,definitely consult a lawyer who specialises in employment law. This is her life that we're talking about. Good luck

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If the statements are false and reckless then the defence of qualified privilege fails and a defamation action should succeed. That's the only way to make sure all the consequences are compensated.

But picking over the past is an expensive business, so it takes courage to demand a full showdown.

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I've known her a very long time (but she's not or has ever been a partner), and I know that she's generally diligent and easy to get on with. She's never had any work issues of this kind before; indeed, she was utterly shocked at her dismissal.

Also, she can't move on very easily. She's virtually unemployable with a reference like that.

Ok, get a proper solicitors that a google search will confirm they're a serious outfit to write to the author of the reference just stating they've been instructed to take action against them. I wouldn't offer any sort of without prejudice deal, of dropping the action in return for a favourable reference etc, but maybe subtly set the scene for them to join the dots and offer this themselves. Maybe approach it as a trawl for what evidence they're basing the assertions on and can they forward it.

One trick, to put the wind up them more, is if possible send it to their home address with no mention of the company, to reinforce, the impression it's them personally you'll be pursuing. Also something like 'based on groundless assertions you've made about our client's daughter we've been instructed.....' to convey a message of rich daddy with bottomless pockets and a top law firm on retainer.

Maybe budget a couple of hundred quid to do a solicitor's letter properly but be careful about them sucking you into a fees blackhole. Something like this will only work if the recipient isn't inured to solicitor's letters though really.

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She must sue.

Firstly there is the injustice - her ex-employer must not be allowed to get away with this.

Secondly there is the slur on her reputation that prevents her from working.

She therefore needs (I) a full retraction from the previous employer and (ii) compensation for the loss of earnings and distress caused.

As she has only been at her new job for a while she can explain the gap on her record as time off.

My strategy would be to get a good lawyer and demand (i) a written undertaking that further references will stick to an agreed bland formula and (ii) she is compensated for loss of earnings and lawyers fees. Don't get greedy with (ii).

The cost of defending the potential suit would hopefully get them to cough up and avoid publicity and damage to both their reputations. It may depend on the size of the company though

Is her previous manager the boss of the outfit? Top level people may not be impressed by this. To my mind, her manager has himself committed a dismissal worthy offence.

Please ensure a lawyer is consulted and the next move is considered in a calm and careful manner.

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One trick, to put the wind up them more, is if possible send it to their home address with no mention of the company, to reinforce, the impression it's them personally you'll be pursuing. Also something like 'based on groundless assertions you've made about our client's daughter we've been instructed.....' to convey a message of rich daddy with bottomless pockets and a top law firm on retainer.

No law form worthy of the reputation is going to send a letter that anything but the facts.

Courts will not be impressed by playing silly buggers either.

The lady should get a decent lawyer with a specialisation and history of this sort of case and do it by the book.

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No law form worthy of the reputation is going to send a letter that anything but the facts.

Courts will not be impressed by playing silly buggers either.

The lady should get a decent lawyer with a specialisation and history of this sort of case and do it by the book.

There's just the potential high cost however

Another legit alternative might be to approach some other known managers in the previous company, and see if the bad reference is something the company might retract spontaneously

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Yes, is struck me that the simpler and potentially quicker solution is to contact the previous company direct, informally, other than the offending manager, and have an honest chat about the reference, maybe the HR department, maybe other senior staff you know there

They might simply choose to retract it straightaway without further grief

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No law form worthy of the reputation is going to send a letter that anything but the facts.

Courts will not be impressed by playing silly buggers either.

The lady should get a decent lawyer with a specialisation and history of this sort of case and do it by the book.

I would think a very high percentage of solicitor's letters are nothing but aggrandised bluffs and empty threats with little or no basis in law. The only instances I'd caution against it is in some cases sometimes doing anything other than seeking immediate injunctive relief can go against you. No judge will sit and read through reams of correspondence and if they've even looked at the case before plonking their ar5e down in court that day you'd be lucky. Although this would most likely come before tribunal rather than court, I would think.

The OPs friend has got a one shot opportunity to intimidate their former manager into providing a satisfactory reference. I doubt they could tolerate the toll it would take, either financially or mentally, to tough out a legal crusade.

Legal battles, outside things like the small claims track, are just too often an arms race of who'll run out of money first. If it was me and involving a manager and former employee. If the former employee had instructed solicitor's themselves, for almost any claim, I'd respond, after letting it drag on as long as possible, by rejecting it. If it came from a solicitors which suggested they had the backing of a union or the like, I'd be more minded to settle but, would take a view on what justification the manager who authored the reference came up with for their actions and if I saw the logic I may well plough on with the dispute.

For me the manager's action would have to be what I considered to be truly egregious and a real risk of a loss in court to settle. Any other scenario and I'd plough on with a protracted legal dispute because even if it clocked up thousands in fees, that couldn't be recouped, the whole time it's ongoing it sends a strong message to the rest of the staff about the robust way any claim brought, once their employment had ended would be met.

Unfortunately, settling with aggrieved former employees, no matter how legitimate their grievance, is an unlikely scenario due to the future ramifications of doing so.

Another top tip for threatening letters is, where at all possible, avoid including an ultimatum unless you plan to immediately take action when it passes. If you say 'do such and such by some time and date', that time passes, nothing happens, they know you're bluffing.

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Yes, is struck me that the simpler and potentially quicker solution is to contact the previous company direct, informally, other than the offending manager, and have an honest chat about the reference, maybe the HR department, maybe other senior staff you know there

They might simply choose to retract it straightaway without further grief

My understanding is the initial meeting with the lawyer would be free and that maybe what they advise in the first instance. However I would sit down with a lawyer and strategise so that there is proper plan - ie we do A, if they settle fine if not we immediately move to B, if they do C we do D, if they do E we do F and so on. Any gap between first contact and subsequent action would be undesirable IMHO. Be fully informed, get ducks in a row.

I agree that retracting the reference without court action would be best. However whether the lady can get reinstated, wants to be reinstated and is willing to eat the loss would be pertinent.

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My understanding is the initial meeting with the lawyer would be free and that maybe what they advise in the first instance. However I would sit down with a lawyer and strategise so that there is proper plan - ie we do A, if they settle fine if not we immediately move to B, if they do C we do D, if they do E we do F and so on. Any gap between first contact and subsequent action would be undesirable IMHO. Be fully informed, get ducks in a row.

I agree that retracting the reference without court action would be best. However whether the lady can get reinstated, wants to be reinstated and is willing to eat the loss would be pertinent.

Fair enough

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I would think a very high percentage of solicitor's letters are nothing but aggrandised bluffs and empty threats with little or no basis in law. The only instances I'd caution against it is in some cases sometimes doing anything other than seeking immediate injunctive relief can go against you. No judge will sit and read through reams of correspondence and if they've even looked at the case before plonking their ar5e down in court that day you'd be lucky. Although this would most likely come before tribunal rather than court, I would think.

The OPs friend has got a one shot opportunity to intimidate their former manager into providing a satisfactory reference. I doubt they could tolerate the toll it would take, either financially or mentally, to tough out a legal crusade.

Legal battles, outside things like the small claims track, are just too often an arms race of who'll run out of money first. If it was me and involving a manager and former employee. If the former employee had instructed solicitor's themselves, for almost any claim, I'd respond, after letting it drag on as long as possible, by rejecting it. If it came from a solicitors which suggested they had the backing of a union or the like, I'd be more minded to settle but, would take a view on what justification the manager who authored the reference came up with for their actions and if I saw the logic I may well plough on with the dispute.

For me the manager's action would have to be what I considered to be truly egregious and a real risk of a loss in court to settle. Any other scenario and I'd plough on with a protracted legal dispute because even if it clocked up thousands in fees, that couldn't be recouped, the whole time it's ongoing it sends a strong message to the rest of the staff about the robust way any claim brought, once their employment had ended would be met.

Unfortunately, settling with aggrieved former employees, no matter how legitimate their grievance, is an unlikely scenario due to the future ramifications of doing so.

Another top tip for threatening letters is, where at all possible, avoid including an ultimatum unless you plan to immediately take action when it passes. If you say 'do such and such by some time and date', that time passes, nothing happens, they know you're bluffing.

at the same time if the former employee has a fair claim then it sends a bad signal to current employees and can make recruiting more difficult if word gets out

Depends on the field I would guess

You take a ruthless stance

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Does she have legal cover through her home insurance? - many policies cover employment disputes. Alternatively, try the local citizens advice bureau. Another source of advice may be ACAS.

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Does she have legal cover through her home insurance? - many policies cover employment disputes. Alternatively, try the local citizens advice bureau. Another source of advice may be ACAS.

Indeed

Also any union membership covering any of her periods of employment?

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I would think a very high percentage of solicitor's letters are nothing but aggrandised bluffs and empty threats with little or no basis in law. 

I would highlight that my issue is that you suggest the lawyer should lie and say they are representing someone who doesn't exist - this fictional rich client.  Very foolish - the defense will investigate and discover the lie. Credibility shot to pieces, the case is over.  Also the lawyers get in a heap of trouble with the Law Society.

The only instances I'd caution against it is in some cases sometimes doing anything other than seeking immediate injunctive relief can go against you. No judge will sit and read through reams of correspondence and if they've even looked at the case before plonking their ar5e down in court that day you'd be lucky. Although this would most likely come before tribunal rather than court, I would think.

When I say she should sue, I don't mean it would necessarily come to court. In any event the courts always want to see efforts at mediation.  Again writing transparent lies in any letters will be picked up by the defense and pointed out to the judge.

The OPs friend has got a one shot opportunity to intimidate their former manager into providing a satisfactory reference. I doubt they could tolerate the toll it would take, either financially or mentally, to tough out a legal crusade.

Quite true, talking this through with a legal expert will clarify the position. The first letter will be important.

I'd agree legal action is stressful - I sued a previous landlord. Although I had some help from a mate who is a lawyer clarifying the legal grounds I basically prepared the case myself and represented myself alone in front of the judge.  There were only 3 people, judge, me and LL but it was a very unpleasant 20 mins.  I won but I'd want to avoid it again.  That said if what happened to that lady happened to me, I'd unleash the dogs.  Having been through it I know I can cope with the stress.

Legal battles, outside things like the small claims track, are just too often an arms race of who'll run out of money first. If it was me and involving a manager and former employee. If the former employee had instructed solicitor's themselves, for almost any claim, I'd respond, after letting it drag on as long as possible, by rejecting it. If it came from a solicitors which suggested they had the backing of a union or the like, I'd be more minded to settle but, would take a view on what justification the manager who authored the reference came up with for their actions and if I saw the logic I may well plough on with the dispute.

For me the manager's action would have to be what I considered to be truly egregious and a real risk of a loss in court to settle. Any other scenario and I'd plough on with a protracted legal dispute because even if it clocked up thousands in fees, that couldn't be recouped, the whole time it's ongoing it sends a strong message to the rest of the staff about the robust way any claim brought, once their employment had ended would be met.

Unfortunately, settling with aggrieved former employees, no matter how legitimate their grievance, is an unlikely scenario due to the future ramifications of doing so.

I agree to some extent.  I think it is important to know the size of the company and if the manager who wrote the letter is the owner and if not, whether senior management were aware and approved.  It sounds like this company is on a sticky wicket assuming the OP is correct.

Another top tip for threatening letters is, where at all possible, avoid including an ultimatum unless you plan to immediately take action when it passes. If you say 'do such and such by some time and date', that time passes, nothing happens, they know you're bluffing.

Again I totally disagree.  If you want to threaten someone, you need to tell them what you want, when you want it by, and the consequences of inaction.  Of course you need to have decided on the course of action and follow through before sending the letter.  If it is just bluster don't bother.  However I suspect that mediation maybe the first port of call.

If you don't give them a deadline, how do you know when to escalate? 

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