ACAS has recently issued new guidance on giving employment references which is summarised below:
A reference is described as being something that “gives important information to a potential employer that helps them to decide if a job applicant is suitable”. It is up to an employer to decide to give a reference or not to a former employee. The guidance states how (and this is the type of reference commonly used) a reference can only state a few basic facts – dates of employment and job title – and does not need to go any further.
An employer should have a policy in place setting out the procedure for giving a reference and what information would be included. References can include basic facts about the applicant, answers to specifically asked questions from the potential new employee (e.g. how many days sick leave has the applicant taken in the previous year), and details about the applicant’s character, skills and abilities. The reference must be true and contain accurate and fair statements. If opinions are provided, they should be based on facts about the applicant. No irrelevant personal information should be provided about them.
ACAS explain that a reference can be provided at any time during the applicant’s recruitment process and that a job application form should state whether a reference will be required and at what stage.
The guidance usefully provides information on whether an employer can give a bad reference. The reference should be accurate and fair and it cannot contain false information. Employers should not provide comments which they are unable to substantiate. However, if substantiated, references can state that an applicant is not suitable for the role and that they do not have enough experience for the role for which they are applying.
Potential employers should be aware that employers can refuse to provide a reference or may inaccurately imply that the applicant is not suitable for the role they are applying for. In this type of situation, it is wise for the employer to discuss any concerns they may have directly with the applicant.
If an applicant is not happy with a reference that has been provided about them, they can make a written request to the author of the reference requesting a copy of it. If they then feel that the reference contains misleading or inaccurate information about them, provided the applicant can prove this, they would be able to make a claim for damages in court if an offer of employment was withdrawn as a result of the reference.
For further information on the guidance, please see What is an employment reference?
By Emily Jones
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