Can you lie about your references?

It can be tempting to stretch the truth when it comes to job applications and references, but what are the legal implications for doing so?

What you need to know about reference checks

  • It’s not a good idea to lie about your references

    While it may not be illegal to give false information about your references, employment lawyer and barrister Catherine Stewart strongly advises against providing deceptive information to prospective employers. “The repercussions for providing false or misleading information is that you may simply not get the job if your lies are discovered,” she says.

    Alternatively, Stewart says, you may get the job and later be [immediately] dismissed, particularly if the employment agreement has an “employee representations” clause. An employee representations clause refers to when you have agreed that all the information you have given to your new employer is true and correct and that you haven’t given any false or misleading information that may have impacted on the employer’s decision to employ you.

  • Previous employers aren’t required to provide a reference

    Once your employment relationship has ended, ex-employers aren’t required to provide you with a reference, regardless of whether you request it, or the potential employer does.

    However, there are some circumstances where an employer needs to provide a reference. “This is sometimes a term of a settlement agreement if both parties agree to it,” says Stewart. “Then it is legally binding in the employment jurisdiction, provided that it complies with the Employment Relations Act and has been signed off by a mediator.”

  • A prospective employer can’t contact a former employer without your consent

    Prospective employers are not allowed to get in touch with your ex-employer unless they have your consent. “A potential employer should tread carefully before reference-checking and ensure they have permission from you before approaching a referee,” says Stewart.

  • Ex-employers must be mindful of the information they provide

    “Generally, an ex-employer should be honest and truthful in their opinions,” says Stewart. “The information they provide to a potential employer should be relevant to your work performance, which is the purpose of the reference.”

    Stewart says that it may not be appropriate for an ex-employer to share personal information about you. “There are a few legal limitations which may apply to references,” she says, “such as an ex-employer should not say something which is potentially defamatory or could be discriminatory on the grounds of a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Human Rights Act.”

    This means ex-employers can’t make comments which are discriminatory about your gender, whether you are pregnant, if you have a disability, your ethnicity, your age, political opinion or religious beliefs.

Reference checks are an important part of the recruitment process, and it’s important that you are honest when you provide your references to your prospective employer. This ensures that your new role gets off to the best start.

Information provided in this article is general only and it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. SEEK provides no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability or completeness. Before taking any course of action related to this article you should make your own inquiries and seek independent advice (including the appropriate legal advice) on whether it is suitable for your circumstances.