Career clinic

Q. I was sacked three years ago from a social work job in a voluntary agency. This was not because of my work but because of action I took as a shop steward, trying to protect a colleague Owen Daviessuffering harassment. My dismissal was considered fair by an employment tribunal. I have done agency work since then, while applying for many permanent posts. I only occasionally get an interview and worry that employers are put off by my history.

A. It is illegal to turn someone down for a job because of trade union membership. Back in the bad old days of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, unions did get complaints that activists were kept off job shortlists. This is rare now and, if discrimination can be proved, unions often challenge employers.

Most good employers will, if asked, say why a job applicant isn’t shortlisted. Ask for an explanation every time you get a rejection.

If you think your previous employer is making things difficult for you, ask to see the reference they are providing for prospective employers. You should be able to get hold of it. If the reference provided is false, misleading or inaccurate, you could sue.

Don’t give up. You will get a job in the end. A good employer will be happy to take on someone who has shown the guts to stand up against bullying. In addition, the shortage of qualified social workers, which is unlikely to come to an end for some time yet, will work in your favour.

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