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  • Overview

    The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) have produced new guidance on providing references in an effort to assist employers when providing references for departing personnel.

    The fresh guidance advises:

    References may include a variety of information about the employee. Basic facts including dates of employment and the individual’s job description are common. However, they can also include answers to questions raised by a prospective employer concerning more sensitive information, such as absence levels and reasons for leaving, details about the job applicant’s skills, attributes, character, strengths and weaknesses.  Care must be taken when providing such answers for the reasons set out below.

    A reference must paint an accurate, true and fair picture about the employee. It is imperative that a reference given for an individual is not misleading and so where personal opinions have been given, these must be substantiated with evidence.  The individual can request a copy of any reference sent to a prospective employer. Where the individual feels wronged by an unfair reference, there is a possibility of litigation if they can show the information was inaccurate and that they have suffered a loss as a result. 

    Employers of outgoing employees should have clear and consistent procedures. All employers should be mindful that a reference could be requested at any stage for one of your employees.  It is therefore important to ensure you have a clear procedure that sets out who the reference should be addressed to, what the references will say both in written form and whether you will entertain additional questions or give an oral reference. 

    Prospective employers should equally have clear and consistent procedures for seeking references.  Prospective employers should be mindful of an applicant’s expectations and be clear throughout an application procedure. Job applications need to indicate whether and when references will be needed, and whether a job offer is conditional on satisfactory references or unconditional. Prospective employers must also seek permission from the applicant to contact their previous employer for a reference. In the absence of a satisfactory reference, prospective employers may wish to direct concerns to the applicant, or offer a role on a probationary period. They may also discuss other possible referees with the applicant.

    Our thoughts

    References can be difficult and it is becoming more and more apparent that individuals are expecting glowing references.  By having a clear policy in place that sets out what, exactly, your organisation will give by way of a reference will assist in managing their expectations and reduce the possibility of an individual feeling they lost a job because of a ‘bad reference’.  


    For more information, please see: ACAS Employment Refrences.

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