Challenging employment references

In the case of Thor v Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust , the High Court ruled that a Laboratory Services Manager could not sue an NHS Hospital for libel over an employment reference. The Claimant had a job offer from another hospital, subject to a satisfactory reference.

In the reference, the former employer was asked whether they would re-engage the Claimant, and replied they would not, because “he was under investigation following allegations of aggressive behaviour”.   The reference also stated “he had resigned during the investigation process.”  The new employer withdrew the offer.

The reference was partially inaccurate.  The former employer contacted the new prospective employer to say that in fact, the investigation had been completed prior to the resignation and he had received a formal warning.  They also stated that they wished to withraw the reasons they had given for why they would not re-engage him.

The Claimant issued proceedings in the High Court against the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust.

The claim was dismissed.  Challenging employment references is difficult, references from employers are generally protected, under qualified privilege, against libel claims.  This is provided that any inaccurate statements have not been made maliciously.  Maliciously in this sense, requires proof that any Defendant knew the words complained of were false or was reckless as to whether they were true or false.

The Court found that the Defendant had not acted maliciously.

It is very difficult to bring a claim against a former employer over references in libel.

For advice on challenging employment references call Carruthers Law today or fill in one our enquiry forms.

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