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Present employer could jeopardise new employment

Tagged as: Big Questions, Troubled relationships<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (8 January 2017) 8 Answers - (Newest, 8 January 2017)
A female United Kingdom age 51-59, anonymous writes:

Not a dating/relationship question, but would really appreciate any input from anyone who has any ideas/thoughts on this problem, as it could turn out to be a big problem for me.

I have worked for a number of years for a small, family-owned company. In that time I have taken on many roles and can help out in most departments. I also provide PA support to the MD (not something I was originally employed for but something of which I am capable and which has just landed on my desk because there is nobody else to do it). I am constantly told I am an invaluable member of staff and know, if I were to hand in my notice, it would not go down well.

However, there are things going on there of recent times which make me unhappy and uncomfortable and, as a result, I am looking around for a new job. I know this will not go down well with "the powers that be", especially as we have just taken on a new major client whose needs I need to service.

There has been a bit of a staff turnover in the last couple of years, many people moving on due to issues not dissimilar to mine. Every time someone leaves, the owners take it very personally. They come out with the same old spiel about the company being "one big happy family" and about feeling "betrayed" by people who leave. As soon as someone hands in their notice, they are virtually ostracized by "the family" and made to feel as uncomfortable as they will allow themselves to feel. None of this is a problem for me. I will cope with it, just as I have seen others coping. The purpose of this information was to give you some background on the company.

My main concern is that the MD's wife is responsible for writing references. Nobody else is allowed to provide references on behalf of the company. I overheard her telling someone the other day that she is fed up of having to write references for "ungrateful people who turn their backs on the company" and that, in future, she will merely give the information she is legally obliged to give, i.e. confirmation that the person worked for the company in such-and-such a position, between dates A and B. This is the standard reference companies give if they cannot give a GOOD reference. (As I understand it, they are not allowed to give a BAD reference.) However, surely this gives the impression to any future employer that there was an issue with the person applying for the job?

How do I handle this? I cannot simply ask previous employers for references as I have worked for this company for many years, so it would look very odd. Do I mention it at interview level?

Also ideas would be welcome on what to say at interview level when asked why I want to leave. (Issues include the odd and controlling behaviour of the owners and the fact that we are grossly under-staffed and, in order to keep up with workload, I often work many extra hours a week, all unpaid.)

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A male reader, Bouncers Dream United Kingdom +, writes (8 January 2017):

I work in HR and have worked for several big corporate companies and now work for Government. Standard practice is simply to confirm employment dates and possibly job title.

Most companies don't expect a detailed personal reference because big companies don't give them. So don't worry too much.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (8 January 2017):

This is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Thank you so much for all your very helpful replies. I will certainly look at the Acas site. (Don't know why on earth I didn't think of that myself!)

In reply to RubyBirtle: the interview I am worried about is the one for the new job. I didn't even think about the exit interview from my current job. Something else to worry about, lol!

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A female reader, like I see it United States +, writes (8 January 2017):

like I see it agony auntI'm very sorry to hear you are dealing with such an unprofessional workplace...

I would not mention any of your suspicions about the old employer in your interview. That might give a prospective employer more reason to pay close attention to what your old employer has to say about YOU, since you will have hinted at a less than smooth working relationship. They may then want, and seek, both sides of the story. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with employment laws in the UK, and I don't know what information a prospective employer may legally request or what a current one may legally give. Knowledge is power, and it might be worth seeking out and reading up on this information in case your current employer tries to be vindictive towards you when contacted by a prospective employer.

I think Ivyblue has a great idea with the request for a personal reference. If it comes from a colleague at your current workplace and your prospective employer contacts that person, he or she may be able to fill in any blanks about what kind of worker you are that the "generic" verification-type reference letter has left unanswered.

Above all, keep your chin up and be as professional as you can while you're still stuck in your current position. Be aware that once you ask for a reference your current employer will know you plan to leave and may scrutinize your job performance more heavily out of spite. Make sure you don't give them anything to use against you.

I hope this helps you. Good luck and best wishes in your job search!

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A female reader, Ivyblue Australia +, writes (8 January 2017):

Ivyblue agony auntwhat about asking a trusted colleague to write you a personal reference?

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A female reader, jls022 United Kingdom + , writes (8 January 2017):

Many companies now refuse to issue a reference containing anything more than the basic facts as they are afraid it could be used against them in the future if the other company or employer disagree with their opinion. So I don't think future employers will find it odd or suspicious at all. If asked, you could simply say that a facts only reference is the company policy (which it seems to now be) but I certainly wouldn't bring it up first. Good luck in your search - it sounds as if you will be much better off somewhere else.

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A female reader, RubyBirtle United Kingdom + , writes (8 January 2017):

I have been through all this over the last few years

I have come to realise that an employers reference is NOT a description of your strengths and weaknesses or you fitness to do the job.

It is simply a confirmation that you worked for them between the dates that you have claimed on your new job application and that you have not been dismissed from your previous post or subject to any disciplinary procedures. That is enough for new employers.

If your current employer claims that you are (or have been) subject to disciplinary procedures when this is not the case - then they have LIED ON A LEGAL DOCUMENT and you can take them to court or an industrial tribunal. An employer needs to keep a record of any disciplinary procedures so they would need to produce these.

You can add an additional character reference if you wish (but ask their permission first) which could be an ex-colleague (not boss), a priest/vicar, someone from any group you volunteer with.

All the references I've given over the past few years on job applications consisted of nothing more than the bare minimum facts. My references were never mentioned at interview although I did have to talk about what I did in my previous roles.

As for what to say at interview if they ask you your reason for leaving - simply saying that you fancy a change should be reason enough. As well as because the new job looks great. Don't complain about your current employers.

Or are you talking about an "exit interview" when your current employers ask you why you're leaving?

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (8 January 2017):


I was in the same position as you about 13 years ago when I left a small family run company where I had worked for over 10 years. They too felt that I had betrayed them and I was worried about the reference situation because they did exactly what your MD's wife will probably do with your reference.

I now work for a very large public institution (where I am very happy) and have discovered that their references are exactly the same - basic details of the role/s a person has held and the dates they were employed. Apparently this is now quite normal.

So just accept the reference your current company provide for you. If you are asked about why this reference is so basic, tell your new prospective employer that this the policy of your previous company, and they do not provide detailed references.

When you are asked at interview why you plan to leave your current company tell the interviewer that you have been there for X number of years, and have worked in many roles (detail these), but you are now ready for new challenges which, although you enjoy working where you are (a white lie here), your current company is not able to provide you with any more new challenges.

As I said, I was in the same position and I got my current job with just a very basic reference from my old employer.

I hope this helps.

Go for it, and good luck!

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A female reader, Nittynora United Kingdom +, writes (8 January 2017):

Nittynora agony auntPlease go onto this site ACAS and take a good look around it is really good. It sounds to be as though you are all bieng bullied. The site lists in alphabetical order all the problems you can encounter at work, I have used them and some of my colleagues have too and they were invaluable. For instance there is an whole section of references.

quote if I may from the ACAS site as an example ( sorry to the dear cupid site of this is not permitted)

References for employment

Key points

Employers do not have to give a reference but if they do it should be fair and accurate, some employers may only give a factual reference stating dates of employment, job title and salary.

•There is generally no legal obligation to give a reference, if one is given it should be a fair reflection and accurate.

•Prospective employers must only approach a job applicant's current employer with the candidate's permission.

•Job offers can be made subject to satisfactory references being received.

•Job applications should say at what stage of the recruitment process references will be sought.

•Employers should have a policy of what will happen when a referee fails to reply to a request for a reference.

Employers may ask for two types of references. Job applicants could be asked to provide the contact details for a professional reference from a previous employers or manager who could recommend them for the role they have applied for, or for a character reference from a person who knows them, for example a teacher.

However, in seeking a reference an employer should not ask for personal information or conjecture about the applicant. The reference should be about the candidate's abilities and aptitude for the job.

A prospective employer must only approach the candidate's current employer with their permission. Any request should include relevant questions regarding the candidate's ability to carry out the role applied for and it may be a good idea to enclose a job description for the referee. A simple form asking for confirmation of dates of employment, duties and any particular skills may be adequate.

Job offers can sometimes be conditional and may depend on satisfactory references being received. Prospective employers should remember a referee may simply fail to provide a reference or may wrongly indicate the applicant is unsuitable. Employers may agree to a probationary period in these cases.

Employees can ask for a copy of any reference sent to a new employer, the request should be in writing. The employer will need to consider if any exemptions apply before they can release the information. If a worker thinks a bad reference has been given they may be able to claim damages in a court, but the worker must be able to show that the information was misleading or inaccurate and that they have suffered a loss such as withdrawal of a job offer.

Never ever bad mouth a pervious employer at interview level, you say you want to leave because you wish to further your career opportunities etc.

They are not allowed to give you a bad reference that is correct

Take a look at the website its is called acas

The Acas helpline number is 0300 123 1100. It is available Monday 8am-8pm, Tuesday 8am-6pm, Wednesday to Thursday 8am-8pm and Friday 8am-6pm.

Good luck don't take any rubbish from them

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