An employee has left and I received a request for a reference, I don't want to give him one because he was not very good and I am glad he has gone. Do I have to give him a reference?
There is usually no requirement to provide a reference. However some employers do agree to provide a reference and occasionally when an employer has agreed to provide a reference this agreement can be included within the employment contract, which would entitle the employee to claim breach of contract if you fail to fulfill what has been agreed.
There may also be a requirement to provide a reference if you work within a regulated industry such a financial services.
If you as an employer decide to provide a reference it must be fair and accurate. Remember employees can challenge a reference if they think it is unfair or misleading. Once the employee commences employment with a new employer they can ask to see a copy of a reference. They have no right to ask you for a copy.
If the employee can show that the reference is misleading or inaccurate and they ‘suffered loss’, as a result eg a job offer was withdrawn, then they may be awarded damages by a Court.
If you choose to give a reference it does not have to be a full and comprehensive reference. Given the potential liabilities involved, it is common for employers to give only a short statement confirming that the individual was employed, the dates of the employment and the employee's job title.
You may be asked to provide a reference either in writing or over the phone. Care should be exercised when giving references over the phone as people can misinterpret what is actually said. In fact it is advisable to only provide a reference in writing to reduce the scope for misinterpretation.
A sample reference can be downloaded from the RML website here and modified to suit your requirements.