Is an employee entitled to see a reference that we have obtained about him which is held on his personnel file?

Employers are not obliged to comply with such a request unless the referee has given consent. Where the referee has not given consent then the employer should disclose as much of the reference as possible without revealing the identity of the referee including his/her name or other identifying particulars.

Can an employer give a bad reference for an ex employee?

The issue is not one of “bad” or “good” it is about distinguishing between fact and opinion. For example, it is opinion that “her time keeping was poor” but a fact that “she was late for work on 10 occasions in two months”. You should be able to back up a statement of fact with evidence in case this is challenged at a later date. If you do wish to express an opinion ensure that you precede this with “in my opinion…” Employers have a duty of care both to the recepient and the ex employee to ensure that the reference is true, accurate and fair and is not misleading.

Are employers obliged to provide a reference?

No, employers are not obliged to provide a reference whether the request is from a prospective employer, the employee or any other third party.