5 things employers need to know about references

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Know the law: employers need to know what is required of them when requesting or giving references
Know the law: employers need to know what is required of them when requesting or giving references

Related tags: Employment, Law

A reference can mean make or break for a job applicant. Employers should know what is required of them when requesting or providing references.

Uncertainty about incorrect and negative references can worry employers and applicants, according to the employment helpline Acas (the advisory, conciliation and arbitration service).

Here are the top five things to know about references, according to guidance issued by Acas:

1. They are not a legal requirement

It is up to you if you would like to a provide a reference for a previous employee. Former employers of applicants to your operation may also refuse to provide you with one. It is legally sound to refuse a request in the UK, with the exception of regulated financial roles. Refusals can be given regardless of where a request came from, including from the former employee or their potential employer.

2. Policies are good practice

Acas recommend employers create a policy on references. A good policy will outline what information should be provided and who in the business is allowed to provide it. It is a reference provider’s choice how much level of detail is given in a reference. You can provide a simple job description and key facts about the individual or offer a more detailed character description.

3. They must be accurate and fair

A reference must reflect its subject in a true and fair manner. Of course, you can include your opinions but they need to be fact-based. You have a duty to not misrepresent or mislead anyone, and there can be legal ramifications for those who fall foul of this. References must not discriminate or victimise – even after the end of employment you can be liable for discrimination.

4. Consent is needed

If you have been asked to provide a reference for a former employee, you must ensure they are happy for you to. This is because you will have to process personal information belonging to the individual, which is regulated by data protection law. It is also important to make job applicants aware you will be contacting their former employers to ask for a reference. Job applications should address whether references are needed and specify when in the recruitment process they will be required.

5. Employees can dispute them

An individual who believes a reference written about them was not accurate or appropriate can claim damages in court. They would be required the information given was misleading or inaccurate and that they suffered a loss, most likely the withdrawal of a job offer. Anyone unhappy with a reference can submit a written request to the author of the reference to view what was sent to the potential employer.

Related topics: Legislation

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