Many thanks for your patience, I am pleased to be able to continue assisting with your query now. First of all, I am sorry to hear about the issues you have experienced in your situation.
If your employer is making life difficult for you by not issuing a reference, or mentioning the issues you experienced whilst working there, they are not actually doing anything illegal.
In general, there is no legal obligation on employers to provide a reference for ex-employees, unless it was a contractual obligation for them to do so or it is for a specific financial services jobs which perform ‘controlled functions’.
If an employer agrees to issue a reference, they will automatically owe the ex-employee a duty to take reasonable care in its preparation. This requires the employer to be fair with the contents of the reference and ensure it is true and accurate and does not provide a misleading impression. They should avoid making speculative comments, such as how good/bad or suitable/not suitable a person would be for a future role.
Certain principles have been established through case law when assessing the duty of care owed by the employer. The main ones are as follows:
1. The general test is from the case of Lawton v BOC Transhield, which requires a court to ask whether a reasonably prudent employer would have expressed the opinions which were stated in that particular reference. It sets the general expectation in a reference and subjects it to the ‘reasonableness test’.
2. In the case of Bartholomew v London Borough of Hackney the employer provided a reference which contained details of disciplinary proceedings pending at the time the employee left. The court decided that the employer had not breached its duty of care by providing such a reference as it would have a duty to provide a reference that is true, accurate and fair and does not present facts so as to give a misleading impression overall. Therefore, if the employer had not included details of the disciplinary proceedings it would have failed in its duty to the prospective employer to provide a reference that was not unfair or misleading.
So what they are doing may be seen as unethical but not unlawful and it is the legal side of things that you can only pursue them for. As to the grievance, there is little that can be done about it now because you are no longer employed by them and you no longer have a right to any grievance process or to do anything about a grievance already raised. You can always tell them you are withdrawing your complaint in the hope that changes things but there is no guarantee it will unfortunately.