As a parent, there will always be a time when you cannot avoid having to take time off work because of your children.
Sickness, school holidays, last-minute let downs by the childminder… the reasons are plenty.
But what happens when you apply for a new job, knowing that you have a string of absences on your record? It doesn’t matter if you can account for them, the figures don’t look good. What can you do about it?
When it comes to writing a reference, an ex employer is obliged to take reasonable care to ensure that the information provided is true, accurate and fair.
Your employer has a legal obligation not to discriminate
The organisation must also ensure that they do not discriminate against ex employees by providing a reference.
If in a reference, an ex-employer refers to time off for maternity leave or parental leave and the new employer decides not to employ you as a result, this would be discriminatory on the grounds of sex. An employee would therefore have a claim for sex discrimination.
Additionally, if during employment, a member of staff raised grievances about being discriminated against â€“ perhaps for having to take parental or maternity leave – and you then received a bad reference as a result, there would be grounds for a claim of victimisation under the Sex Discrimination Act.
Making a tribunal application
If you feel that you have been discriminated against, bear in mind that you only have three months from the date of the discriminatory act to bring a claim (unless the tribunal believes that it is just and equitable to extend this time limit).
You can ask for a copy of your reference
If you suspect that they may have been discriminated against in a reference then they can ask for a copy of it under the Data Protection Act. However, you may not have the right to see the reference if it is marked as ‘confidential’.
If this is the case then it will only be disclosed if it is ‘reasonable in all the circumstances’. The recipient of the reference will have to make that decision and will take into account factors such as whether you need to see the reference to challenge the accuracy of it, whether you would make threats to the person who gave the reference and whether you did not get the job as a result of the reference.
If you believe that you may have received a bad reference due to taking maternity leave or absence related to childcare then you should take further legal advice.
By Sarah Calderwood, employment law specialist at law firm Slater Heelis, www.slaterheelis.co.uk