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Employment law



Employer's duty on giving a reference for an employee

Relaxion Group Plc v Rhys-Harper [2003] UKHL 33 (19 June 2003) 

Per Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead:

“If an employer gives a reference for a person currently employed by him he is subject to common law duties of care as well as statutory non-discrimination obligations. I can see no reason why in this regard the position should be different, or regarded as more onerous, if a reference is provided for a former employee as distinct from a current employee. If an employer provides a reference for a former employee he must do so as fairly as he would for a current employee. Second, regarding refusal to provide a reference, the question of discrimination can only arise if the employer's normal practice is to provide references for former employees on request. If that is the employer's practice, there is surely nothing burdensome in requiring him not to discriminate in the way he implements this practice. He must not treat one former employee less favourably than another on grounds of sex or race or disability or by way of victimisation. If, however, it is not the employer's practice to give references for former employees, for example, after the lapse of a certain time, then refusal of a reference after that time cannot give rise to a well founded discrimination claim. In such a case there would be no question of the employer subjecting the former employee to a detriment. Third, the prospect of former employers being harassed with unfounded, vexatious claims cannot be a good reason for refusing to entertain well founded claims. The appropriate response to this understandable concern of employers is for employment tribunals to be alert to strike out manifestly ill founded claims as vexatious.”


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