Worked as a web developer in a start up company for 4 years after I graduated. I was taken to a disciplinary for poor performance after the 4th year when things started to sour with management.

I am however concerned that this may affect future job opportunities from not being able to get a favourable reference from this place.

I have since worked in 4 others organisations since this role where other people have been extremely happy with my performance, so do not feel that this is reflective of my character at all.

I am doing extremely well right now (Corporate), and worried that I may in lose future job offers if a reference is asked from this place. I have already tried to negotate with the company for a neutral reference, but they are unwilling to negotiate and are vindictive.

If so, I am considering taking legal action if possible.

I read the official document that was used against me tonight and retrospectively it seems as though a lot was taken out of context:

- Not meeting time based hourly deadlines

These deadlines were aggressively set by another developer and largely subjective by not taking into account skill level and complexity.

Where it started to become apparent that they were set to build a case against me, instead of improving performance, missing any deadline due to unforeseen software engineering complexity was used against me in official documentation.

- Long term sickness

Before I joined the business, management knew I had health problems but still decided to hire me.

They then used this against me without mentioning this in the documentation.

They also did not take into account how difficult the recovery was, which impacted my performance and mental well-being.

- They acknowledged I met deadlines

It was acknowledged I met deadlines, yet management decided to skim over this as opposed to highlighting that I was acting in best faith to meet deadlines when realistically possible.

- Management ignore their flaws

I was asked to stop remote working and put on-site. I complained that the development environment was not set up properly and was taking me time to get going. Management ignored this as me making excuses.

- Management complained I wasn't doing enough work

When I was doing what I was asked by them, and was not being utilised properly by them.

In more professional environments Product Owners/Managers are responsible for making sure the team have work.

Management also made no effort to mitigate this situation by not having any structure in place - daily stand ups etc

Ultimately, management were trying to paint me as untrustworthy, unreliable, yet they were incompetent.

If it comes down to it can I take legal action? I am based in the UK.


  • 2
    Clearly a legal question. Ask a lawyer, since nobody here can judge the specifics. I voted to close.
    – Sascha
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 20:56
  • The question as asked is off topic, as only a lawyer can answer that. But this question is very closely related to What can I do about a malicious previous employer giving bad references? Commented May 27, 2019 at 21:05
  • Clearly a question about navigating the hiring process/references with a hint of employment legal overtones. Voted to re-open.
    – motosubatsu
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 16:40

3 Answers 3


Let it go.

If this 4 jobs and many years ago, no one will care or ask. References have a significant "time constant" to them: the more recent, the more valuable & relevant they are. If there is 4 more recent jobs to chose from, no hiring manager will go to them for input.

You can partially control this too: Put "references available on request" on your resume or cover letter and make sure you have a few past managers lined up willing to help you out if someone asks. Most hiring manager/recruiters will actually you ask to provide references since it makes it easier for them. The candidate will probably bias towards positive references, but that's not necessarily a bad thing and still a lot better than picking someone at random.


Edit 2: I initially missed that OP had left that job and started a new job where everything is currently fine. obviously in OP's case my first advice is un needed. I am leaving it in the post for anyone who finds them self in the same position but hasn't started looking for another job yet.

First thing I would say is you should start looking for a job now. The worst thing that could happen is that you actually get fired and then have to explain that.

At this stage I would simply not list any references in any job seeking profile you setup. If someone asks for references before they make you an offer say the following thing exactly as written.

"I fully appreciate that you wish to check my references however after several bad experiences talking to recruiters and companies that didn't respect that I am doing a confidential job search I am no longer willing to provide my references until a company provides me with an offer. Obviously I understand that any offer would be contingent upon checking those references. If that isn't possible for this position I totally understand and thank you for your time."

Having been in your exact situation earlier in my career I never once ran into a company that required references before giving me an offer.

Now once you have an offer when they ask for your references say the following:

"I'm really excited to start and want to do what ever I can to help, that being said I want to tell you a little more about my situation and why I have been looking for a job. I have worked at {company} for 4 years and for a long time thought that I would never leave, however in the last year managerial changes have completely changed the working environment and I have felt that my direct manager has slowly lost respect for me. This makes me nervous to provide a managerial reference for this position, however {name of coworker} is an engineer at the company who I have tremendous respect for and I believe would give you an honest appraisal of my skills. I can completely understand if this isn't the outcome you expected and I am happy to spend as much time in technical discussions or provide any addition references outside my current reporting structure to make you feel comfortable"

I have given versions of both of these speeches in the last 15 years of my career for various reasons and can honestly say the companies that aren't willing to work with you on this are not places you want to work.

Edit based on question:

Most companies do an employment check and references. An employment check is very different than references in an employment check a company cannot say anything about your employment they can only validate that you worked there and say if you would be re-hireable.

when you provide references you are giving the people on that list legal permission to talk to them about you. References rarely need to be from the same company and only occasionally specifically require that some number of the references be from direct supervisors. Over the years I have created a very specific list of people who are willing to give good references for me some of them managers some of them not. Some of the people on that list are people who worked at different companies that me but for a time collaborated with me on some project.

Don't stress about this the best thing to do is start thinking about who you know who is articulate and respects you.

  • After a while (other jobs) the role becomes less relevant when providing references right? Commented May 27, 2019 at 21:32
  • edited main response since I ran out of room to make it a comment
    – Dataminion
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 21:43
  • Why do you advice to look for a new job? The OP doesn't work there anymore and there is no indication that there is anything wrong with his/her current gig
    – Hilmar
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 21:45
  • sorry I missed that, agreed shouldn't look for a new job if their new job is fine... all of the rest still applies when they do start looking next.
    – Dataminion
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 21:46
  • Yeah, I'm currently employed and moving to another job which don't seem to care about asking for a reference from this shitty place. FYI - this role was 5 years ago, worked in 4 companies since. Knock wood. Do you think a company will ask from a reference here since it isn't my most recent gig. Commented May 27, 2019 at 21:47

Couple of points (Which cross over a little to your other question about your CV)

  • Most employers do not request, or supply anything other than a 'Yes they had this role' and a declaration of any time off sick. If this employer is providing a genuine anecdotal reference, especially a bad one it is highly unusual.

    • If you do have documentary evidence that what they are stating in a reference is incorrect then you probably do have a legal case. I wouldn't recommend taking it up though if you currently have decent employment. It would be a long and potentially expensive exercise.

    • You could try getting a letter drafted to them, reminding them about employment law. Again, I wouldn't bother.

    • If you are going to go down either path, I'd refrain from posting anything more about their 'incompetence'

    • I wouldn't even be asking this employer for a reference after this amount of time, and neither would most recruiters. Keep the experience on your CV, but don't give any referee details for them. If the recruiter asks for them (Which will only be after a job offer) then explain the situation.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .