A recent case highlights the care that employers should take with references. An ex-employer can be liable for a future loss of earnings, and potentially expensive compensation, for giving a bad reference to an ex-employee.
The case (some would say not surprisingly...) involved a solicitor who brought claims of unfair dismissal and sex discrimination against her employer. These claims were settled.
She subsequently successfully applied for a job with another firm of solicitors giving her previous firm as a referee. They provided a reference which stated that she had a poor relationship with her bosses, mentioned the legal action she initiated against them and described her as “inflexible as to her opinions”. You will not be surprised to hear that on the basis of the reference the job offer was withdrawn.
The solicitor took both her ex-employer and prospective employer to the employment tribunal who decided that the “damaging” and “negative” reference was an act of victimisation. However they found her previous employer, who supplied the reference, were only liable for injury to feelings and not loss of earnings. The solicitor appealed and the Employment Appeals Tribunal upheld the decision but also found that her ex-employers were liable for loss of earnings, increasing the compensation.
So what can you do as an employer when asked for a reference by an ex-employee? Positive references will be fine. Some firms provide only simple factual details, job title and dates of employment. If you do give a reference you should not mislead or be unfairly selective – you don’t want to create a false impression.
You don’t have to give a reference – there is no legal obligation to do so. Air on the side of caution with any difficult or troublesome ex-employee. You have nothing to gain from providing a reference and potentially a lot to lose.
Finally a quick reminder of the recent increase to the National Minimum Wage.
The increases in the national minimum wage took effect from 1 October 2010. The new hourly rates are:
* Standard (adult) rate (the Government will extend this rate to 21-year-olds so this will apply to workers aged 21 and over): £5.93 (rising from £5.80)
* Development rate (workers aged between 18 and 20): £4.92 (rising from £4.83)
* Young workers rate (workers aged under 18 but above the compulsory school age who are not apprentices): £3.64 (rising from £3.57).
A new minimum wage for apprentices will also be introduced of £2.50 per hour. This will apply to apprentices under 19 years of age or those aged 19 and over but in the first year of their apprenticeship. The value of accommodation offset also increases from £4.51 to £4.61.
Although hopefully informative this article does not constitute legal advice. It is advisable to always check with someone legally trained before taking any action. Nick Arron, solicitor at Poppleston Allen.
Nick joined Poppleston Allen in 1998 and, after a spell in Australia as a paralegal returned in 2003, eventually becoming a fully qualified solicitor. Nick looks after Employment Law for the firm and works in Liquor and Entertainment Licensing so is very familiar with the pub trade and the challenges licensees face on a daily basis. www.popall.co.uk