What is your policy on employment references?


Is the popularity of the ‘no references’ policy just a kick in the teeth for loyal employees?

Concern has grown in recent years as to what employers can and can’t say in references. This has resulted in some only giving very basic information (which doesn’t actually help the potential new employer or the member of staff).

Some managers aren’t trusted to write references in case they end up being sued for defamation of character or limiting the employee’s chance of securing a new job. Some fear reprisals from new employers where a reference ‘exaggerates’ an ex-employee’s abilities.  Often, legal advisors add to these concerns and advise against writing individual references. This is a great shame and often unfounded – our advice is that if you get it right, your approach to references can be great for staff retention too.

Be known as a great employer to work for

If you want to be recognised as a good employer shouldn’t you be helping people in their careers? In return you’ll be rewarded by having motivated staff and a good reputation.

We all want our good people to stay with us, but some will inevitably move on and, when they do, you want them to say great things about your business.  How can you expect staff to work hard for you and then say you’re not going to help them in their career?

Who should write references?

Some HR teams dread the idea of having to spend time writing references, but the task shouldn’t fall on HR, it’s a line management responsibility. Afterall, it’s the managers who really know their staff. And if you can’t trust a manager to write a reference, ask yourself why would you trust them to manage staff on a day to day basis?

What you need to do:

  • review your policy
  • show your managers how to write a reference that is helpful, honest and not likely to end up in an employment tribunal

This will also help your managers in:

  • becoming better at managing staff
  • developing their team
  • being aware of individuals’ strengths
  • and where they need to improve

So, overall the business benefits from improved performance management.

Deal with difficult references objectively

If you are asked to provide a reference for, say, a dismissed employee or someone whose performance or conduct has been less than satisfactory, provide only the minimum factual employment information.

But in all cases keep to a standard format and ensure your references are:

  • factually accurate
  • fair
  • and not misleading in the overall impression it gives to the recipient

Remember, once someone has started with a new employer they can ask to see a copy of a reference, however, they have no right to ask their previous employer.

For advice on the legal implications of employment references, contact us today