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ACAS Guidance: Employment References

ACAS have recently issued guidance on the giving of employment references. The guidance covers off all of the main questions that employers may have, e.g. whether references have to be provided and whether a bad reference can be provided. The guidance is explored in detail below.

Can an Employer Refuse to Provide a Reference?

The simple answer is yes (in most cases!). Most ex-employers can decide whether or not they wish to provide a reference and the amount of detail they wish to go into in respect of any reference given.

Although it is usually the employer’s prerogative as to whether they wish to provide a reference in certain cases, e.g. in industries regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, it is a legal requirement to provide a reference for any ex-employees.

The Content of References

All references should be true, accurate and fair; however they do not need to follow a specific format or include certain information nor do they need to answer any specific questions asked.

Many employers are unsure as to what information a reference should include – the simple answer is that there is no right or wrong way to write a reference. An ex-employer may wish to provide simple, basic information about the ex-employee and nothing more (e.g. job description and dates of employment) or they may choose to provide more detailed information (e.g. the ex-employee’s absence levels, reason for leaving, character, suitability, skills and experience). The level of detail provided in a reference is entirely up to the ex-employer.

Requesting a Reference from an Applicant’s Current Employer

What is the protocol for requesting a reference when the applicant has not left their current place of work? A tricky situation for all employers and one that should be dealt with sensitively. The correct answer is that an employer should obtain the applicant’s permission before requesting a reference from their current employer.

How Frank Should an Employer be?

All references should be true, accurate and fair. A reference should not be misleading nor should it contain information that is inaccurate.

Ex-employers should refrain from providing overly subjective opinions and it would be wise to avoid making comments that are not backed up by facts.

The information contained within the reference may indicate a lack of suitability or experience for a job role. Employers should exercise caution on giving reasons for leaving particularly when it might be controversial. If an employee has left the business on bad terms or been dismissed, employers are increasingly providing only a brief, factual reference confirming the job description of the ex-employee and their dates of employment – this has the benefit of helping to avoid any potential problems.

This bulletin is for general guidance purposes only and should not be used for any other purpose.

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