I'm not too sure how the law works in the UK as opposed to the US but welcome any advice or feedback on what follows...

Since February I have been in the running for a position working for a US based business but based in the UK and dealing with the UK HR department. The good news is that I was offered the position and what followed was a contract which looked fine, signed and returned. I gave it a 4/5 days to let the documentation arrive and made a call to my contact in the US who I would be reporting into, he said 'have HR not been intouch?!'. Clearly they had not been in contact with me, the conversation went on that there was an unsatisfactory return from one of the background checks - past employer reference.

The history surrounding my past employ was that we didn't get along, mainly due to the fact that pre-employ I was promised a whole load of things that never materialised and when I managed to get a meeting (14 months after I joined, should have been 3!!!) with the MD (who I reported to) he started bawling and shouting and said that our conversation never took place! I know it took place, made notes and lets remember that this meeting was before I handed my notice in. I pointed out that he had mislead me prior to joining the company and that he was lying about the conversation taking place. Anyhow communication actually broke down to the point where the MD put another person inline between myself and him and made it his mission to make my life difficult. Now I never received any disciplines during my employment or anything that could or would be documented in my records so my work and conduct could not be challenged.

Now getting back to the dilemma...
The hiring company HR requested details of two past employers who they could seek references from, my heart sank knowing that I would have to either discuss this with HR or contact my old MD and ask if he would provide a reference - I went with option 2 and emailed him. He returned an email saying not to hesitate in using him as a reference contact, so I did.

But now it turns out that he has set me up and stabbed me in the back!!!
I dont know what has been stated because in the UK Confidentiality laws will not allow it but I can request a copy under Data Protection laws. Clearly I want to recover from this situation as I believe it is possible to do so knowing the background.

I contacted HR, explain the situation and have requested that the reference that they have from this contact be dismissed due to the credibility of the person writing it, personality issues we both had and the fact that he had stated that he would provide a reference not an attack on my career. (Which I am told is illegal to do, you dont give a reference or just provide the basic info).

Recovery - I have requested that HR disregard the bad reference and use 2 references from contacts who where director/shareholder level within the same business, who no longer work at the business and who I believe are honest people and it looks as though they are following my request. But the decision, will ultimately by made by the US Hiring Manager under advice from the European HR Director who I have been dealing with. This bad reference is clearly a personal attack.

One other issue is that I received a letter a day after initially talking to the US and finding out the bad news. It contained a cheque for £1000 as a goodwill gesture and I believe to be as a silence because they sent signed contracts out before performing their own due diligence. If all goes well the cheque will be destroyed bu if it goes badly I believe that this amount is very low as compensation as I could have given my notice in and be unemployed because of their ineptitude.

What a nightmare!

thaGUma's picture

Conflict is not good. Your difficulty lies in how a bad reference is perceived. There is strong case law in the UK on this (and I presume US is even stronger). Age old quandry fight and risk becoming unemployable or play the game and move on. I would suggest that you want to minimise any impact that reference can have now or in the future. You absolutely do not want to drag the new company through the courts because of the contract - you might get a pay off , but then what? The following in no particular order...

1. Get hold of the 'bad' reference if possible.
2. You have done the right thing to propose alternative references.
3. Get a meeting with the new company. The contract should be positively exploited to bring them to the table. (but a bad ref will probably be enough for any good lawyer to wriggle out). Set out the situation. Be postive in all respects.
4. Take legal advice. Perhaps sending a solicitor's letter to the referee. This may be useful - it may not elicit an apology (as it would open them up to £ action) but it shows strength to your new company and will resduce the chance of it happening again.
5. You have gone from a reasonable candidate to a risk. The new company needs to know you are worth that risk. You need to persuade them to disregard the bad reference and hire you - I would
6. If you are successful, you will rpobably have a better relationship with your new company that if the problem never happened. Silver lining.
7. Send the cheque back £1,000 is not a lot of money - it is a poor tactic (hmmmm...p'haps this company isn't worth working for). Even if you end up walking away, you will feel better not accepting it.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

I think case law is irrelevant...unless you're going to sue. Surely not.

I would contact the hiring manager and the ex-manager. Explain, and ask the ex- to recant. Show the email to the new boss saying the ex- encouraged the reference, and then - even though this isn't perfect - behaved less than honorably.

And assume there's a good chance that you won't get the job... who wants this mess, even if it's not your doing?

Sounds like the hiring company did a lousy job, and you did get stabbed in the back. The guy who did this to you reminds me of the old adage, forgive your enemies... but never forget their names.


joolzb's picture

Priceless advice as always - thanks...

Agree, confilct is never good and hopefully the hiring company have invested enough time and money in me that recovery after this dis-honourable attack on my career is possible and we can leave this horrid event behind.

From talking to the hiring manager in the US, he tells me that he works on advice from UK HR and they told him that one of the background checks was unacceptable and couldnt take the appointment forward - I dont think he has been privy to the detail (as I have not) as he could not tell me whether it was reference or drug test when we spoke, those details came only from HR due to confidentiality.

After discussing the situation with UK HR at length I must say that after explaining the situation and requesting they take up the additional referees they appear to be onside and have scheduled a meeting with the US hiring manager to discuss options (so at least they see options, which is a damn sight more positive than the rejection letter).

I did tell UK HR that depending on the outcome and content of the bad ref, that I would have no problem taking legal action against the hiring manager. I wanted them to know how serious I am about working for them and told them that I was not going to let this position get away from me over this bad reference, the opportunities for both them to hire me and me to work for them are just too good.

1. Monday I will request hard copies of both references.
4. I am a member of a large trade union with free legal services who are looking into the legality of the contract and bad reference.
5. Luckily I am the only candidate at present, UK and Europe is a new territory and I was to be the first to come onboard (its a global company with entities throught most countries but the spin out company I would work for is US based - I would be paid out of a UK entity). This is a double edged sword - they are twitch anyway with me being the first EU employee so they will either support me fully with the new refs or forget it. At present they seem to agree that the bad ref needs to be disregared.
7. I was not going to bank the cheque until I know more as to what way things are going. The £1,000 is not a lot of money but as I stopped taking work in when the offer arrived and turned down two other opportunities that have been on the boil for months also - It could be handy in keeping some wolves from the door.

The only person who I would consider taking to court at this time would be the ex-boss all depending what is written in the bad ref. After talking to HR I do feel the situation is recoverable but like in every appointment the employers are looking for a reason to say no and this was the weak link.

The decision I took which could have been the wrong one was to contact the ex-manager qualifying that he would give a reference as UK HR said if I would have brought it up at the time of references they would have looked at other options. The thing is that I didnt know that at the time and didnt want to muddy the waters when he encouraged the reference - not set me up for a fall.

HR have requested I forward the Reference Qualification email, which I have done and I think will use is as you suggest, they are going to talk to the hiring manager to discuss the options Monday.

An ace I do have is that both of the new references have been shafted by the ex-manager - one was a shareholder in the business!! And hopefully can make it clear that the ex-manager is a nasty piece of work. He would never retract the reference, thats more than his Ego would allow and I would expect that he would avoid my calls and emails. This guy is so devious that he forced a fellow director to send several emails to the chairman about the role and salary his wife was earning (yes his wife, brother and best friends work for the company!) and got her a £18k raise!!! plus fully expensed vehicle.

Its a fantastic position, a change, well more a re-focus in career and the first hire in a new territory with opportunities to be part of the business as it grows - I will go down fighting, I owe that to myself...

wendii's picture
Admin Role Badge

Hi Joolz,

it sounds like things are moving your way, but I did look up what the CIPD (the UK professional body for HR) had to say. You can read the whole thing here:

But what seems relevant is:

[i]In an offer letter to a successful applicant, a prospective employer should state that this is a ‘provisional offer subject to references satisfactory to the organisation being received’.

If an employee starts a job before the receipt of their references, the requirement to obtain satisfactory references may no longer be a condition of employment. The employee will have the same rights in relation to wrongful dismissal (ie breach of contract), statutory dismissal procedures or any form of discrimination, as any other employee. [/i]

Although you have said, and I would agree with you that the only person you would consider sueing is your previous boss, it does seem that as you have signed a contract there is a legal hold over the company. This may explain their willingness to work with you.

I hope it all turns out for the best.


joolzb's picture

Wendii, thanks for looking that up.

My feelings like yours are that UKHR could look inept in the US Hiring managers eyes and as I have given them some options they can kill two birds with one stone as this really could turn into a mess, if allowed.

The biggest impact that the contract arriving had was to prepare me for the new role i.e. bringing projects to a close and if I was employed as opposed to a consultant, would have given my notice and probably have left.

This contract actually has no start date (they asked in a separate letter when was the earliest I could start) and also did not mention anything about being a provisional offer/ contract - this is clearly their weak spot as they have done a bad job here like Mike says.

Well later today UK HR are speaking to the US Hiring manager to discuss the 'options' and what will be will be.

joolzb's picture

Well its been a few days now, have spoken to UK HR twice and they have not been able to hook up with the US Hiring manager. The longer this goes on I fear that recovery will become more and more difficult and that UK HR and not being as responsive as they should be.

Yesterday (Tuesday) I received a copy of the offending Reference and in all honesty, it ain that bad, no attacks or slating but a reference to the issues that I have spoken to HR about (i.e. verbal agreements not being honoured) and oh the answer to the question - Would you re-hire this person... answer NO. I wouldn't seek employment from that company again so the feeling is mutual really.

For me this shifts all focus now over to UK HR and what they are willing to do advice wise for the US manager. They are speaking to him about options as at present the deal is dead in the water, options have to be positive... NO?

On the contract issue, I have read over it several times and it looks to me to be a binding contract and would have thought their way out would be to terminate the contract and serve the notice (2wks) as opposed to this £1000 goodwill gesture which is more a kick in the pants than goodwill. I have been looking into my rights prior to any legal action and have found that the contract would stand as I have a contract to start work at an agreed time and although I have not actually started, I intended to do so - lets hope it doesn't get into legal spheres!

HR have confirmed that this will be concluded this week so for good or bad, I can get on with things.

joolzb's picture

Oh well, spoke to the Hiring manager and HR today and its bad news, the decision stands. Some garble about zero-tolerance background checking due to the company being burned once before due to 'some risk'.

So I guess that i have to try and recover enough cash out of the situation to cover me while I look for some work. Sadly I feel as though we need to go to court or have my Union represent me.

kklogic's picture

I'm so sorry you're going through this. Perhaps something even better is right around the corner for you and this will have all worked out for the best. Best wishes for this situation to resolve well for you.