The BVNA IRS Helpline occasionally receives calls from VNs asking if they have to provide their last employer’s details for a reference. Usually this is asked when they have been advised that they are to be dismissed or they have left under difficult circumstances.

Most employers usually ask for two references, one being from the last employer for whom you worked, the other could be a personal reference or from a previous employer.

Worker’s rights

An employer doesn’t usually have to give a work reference – but if they do, it must be fair and accurate. You may be able to challenge a reference that you think is unfair or misleading.

Employers must give a reference if:

•  there was a written agreement to do so 

•  they’re in a regulated industry.

If they give a reference it:

•  must be fair and accurate – and can include details about your performance and if you were sacked

•  it can be brief – for instance, job title, salary and the dates when you were employed.

Once you start with a new employer you can ask to see a copy of a reference, but you have no right to ask your previous employer.

Bad references

If you think that you have been given an unfair or misleading reference, then you may be able to claim damages in a court. Your previous employer must be able to back up the reference – for example, by supplying examples of warning letters.

You must be able to show that:

•  it is misleading or inaccurate

•  that you have ‘suffered a loss’ (for instance, a job offer was withdrawn).

Discrimination and unfair dismissal

You may also be able to claim damages from a court if:

•  your employment contract says the employee must be given a reference, but the employer refuses to do so

•  you are dismissed because the employer has been asked to give a reference while you are still working for them. 

 If you have any questions regarding this subject or any other employment query members of the BVNA can contact the IRS Helpline for free advice and support.

Please call 01822 870270 or e-mail


Nicky Ackerley BA(Hons)

Nicky Ackerley HR Support is owned by Nicky Ackerley who has a BA (Hons) Business Studies Degree, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and who has been a practising HR manager for over 20 years. HR Support Consultancy has provided the BVNA's Industrial Relations Service since it began in 2002.

• VOL 28 • May 2013 • Veterinary Nursing Journal