We'd like to thank Daniel Barnett of Outer Temple Chambers for the following tips when responding to references for employees and former employees:
- Have a decent, written, well communicated policy on how your company will respond to requests for references.
- Apply your policy consistently.
- If you decide not to provide a reference, be clear about the reasons why - and make sure that you're on safe ground (i.e. you wouldn't be discriminating, victimising, or breaching a contract by not giving the reference).
- Be clear about whether a reference is given in the business's name, or personally.
- Remember that references needn't be in writing. Take care in all communications with prospective employers. Praiser v NHS England v Coventry City Council - a discrimination case - is a good example of an employer getting itself into trouble by deviating from an agreed reference during a conversation with a prospective employer.
- Avoid including anything in the reference that could be misleading. 'Misleading' works both ways; don't suggest that an employee is great if they're not.
- Never write or say anything that you don't believe is true; that could be defamation.
- Know about your Data Protection Act obligations, especially in relation to information you give about employees' time off work.
- Avoid giving opinions on the employee's suitability for a role. But if you do comment, make sure that you can justify what you say by reference to facts. And include a disclaimer.
- Step back and consider the overall impression that the reference gives of the employee. Is it accurate? Is it fair?
For more information on this or any other HR matter, please get in touch.