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My wife has been offered a role within the NHS and as part of the process, they wish to contact her current employer for a reference prior to making an unconditional offer, sending the contract, and confirming the start date. She is nervous to resign from her current position until the contract is signed so has this dilemma of needing to tell her manager that they will be contacted for a reference but without actually resigning.

Her manager is also the owner of the business and there are no back-office functions such as HR so wanted to check opinion on where she stands if her manager asks her to leave once she's given this news.

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  • How long has she been with her current employer? – motosubatsu Aug 21 '20 at 11:03
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    It's been over 2 years – Simon Pinner Aug 21 '20 at 11:04
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    Although mentioning NHS gives it away, maybe it's good for both clarity and archiving to add an UK-tag to the question. – thieupepijn Aug 21 '20 at 11:29
  • @thieupepijn way ahead of you :) I've already added the tag. – motosubatsu Aug 21 '20 at 11:31
  • Depends on what her contract says. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Aug 22 '20 at 13:45
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Since she's been there more than two years she has a reasonable amount of protection - he can't fire her just because there was a reference request.

I mean he can go down the redundancy route - but again she's more protected having been there that length of time and if she can demonstrate the close temporal proximity of having been put "at risk of redundancy" or similar to this request she'd have some pretty decent grounds to go to an Employment Tribunal.

Ultimately though there is still a risk here - even a successful tribunal is likely to result in a payout rather than a job. And of course the there is the possibility that even if the employer doesn't seek to get rid of her (and the NHS opportunity doesn't pan out) it might be an uncomfortable working relationship to say the least.

Ideally she would go back to the NHS and ask if they would accept an alternative reference, but I concede that public bodies like this can be a bit.. rigid in their requirements and processes. I think the risk is relatively minor unless the current employer has demonstrated that they are the vindictive sort, but it's still there.

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    Thanks, kind of confirms what I was thinking! – Simon Pinner Aug 21 '20 at 12:02
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They can of course fire you. It may be illegal, in which case it will be costly for them if you fight it in court. Most likely it will be illegal, but if it happens, it's still might inconvenient for you. So the best is to avoid the situation.

Insisting on a reference from the current employer, especially in August 2020, is very bad behaviour. If they insist, she should ask them if they are aware that there is a virus around and millions unemployed. If they don't change their mind, she should ask them to talk to their supervisor. The alternatives are a reference from a person in your company that you trust personally, or a reference from a previous company.

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Disclaimer: I am not sure of the legal position in the UK but if someone wants to get rid of an employee they will most likely find a way

Yes they can. If an employee shows they want to part with their current employer, that impacts on the trusted relationship between the two. There are even jobs where you are escorted out of the building and put on immediate "gardening leave" to not give you an opportunity to steal customers or have a deep insight into the most recent deals. Financial/Insurance sector for example.

It is always best not to discuss leaving with your employer until you are ready to hand in your notice.

I do, sometimes, when I switch roles or get a changed responsibility, ask for a short letter of recommendation - just for keeping in my files to document my development.

Other than that it is customary and expected that you can´t give a reference for your most recent job if you are hired out of an existing engagement.

So TLDR: Depending on the job and the character of the boss, they may try to get rid of you asap, make an counteroffer and try to keep you or react in grace and hope you give a clean handover in return.

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    Is there actually any jurisdiction where you can be fired for saying you are considering to leave? Either you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all (e.g. US at-will employment) and that's moot or there is a legally mandated list of valid reasons and I would not expect “thinking about leaving” to be on it (not the downvoter). – Relaxed Aug 21 '20 at 11:05
  • Not that I'm aware of in the UK – Simon Pinner Aug 21 '20 at 11:06
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    @Relaxed At least In Germany you can, kind of. Not directly but your Boss can make the argument that the trust needed for a work relationship is gone. This may be disputed and then it will depend on the circumstances and interests of each party. See for example (German): stimme.de/archiv/region-hn/… – Daniel Aug 21 '20 at 11:12
  • I see, it seems completely unreasonable to me but it's definitely an interesting fact (+1) – Relaxed Aug 21 '20 at 11:18
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    @Relaxed: Firsthand experience of a friend: If you work for AEON and Willis knocks on your door, they will not let you near any of their computers again. They rather pay you to stay home and do nothing for half a year. It depends on your Industry. If "your" contacts are worth millions ... – Daniel Aug 21 '20 at 11:22

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