What you need to know if giving a reference - new guidance released from ACAS

What you need to know if giving a reference - new guidance released

In a competitive job market, it is important that employers are aware of their obligations in regards to the giving of references. References can vary greatly from a full character reference to a standard ‘dates of employment’ reference. But what actually are an employer’s obligations in regards to giving a reference?

Is there an obligation to give a reference?

The ACAS guidance reminds employers that in the majority of cases an employer can chose whether or not to provide a reference and how much information is provided. There are exceptions to this in certain industries such as those regulated by the financial services authority.

Remember that employees may ask others for a reference such as colleagues or managers and employers should provide guidance to employees on how to deal with such a request.

A reference is only one way of showing that an employee is suitable for a role and if you do not give a reference a potential employer may look to other alternatives such as a probation period or personal reference.

What should a reference include?

As stated above, an employer can generally chose what information is in a reference. A request may ask for specific details to be provided or for basic facts to be provided. However, whatever information is given must be fair and accurate. The guidance reminds us that it is possible that a reference might show an employee to be unsuitable for a role but any comments given should be supported by facts and not be unsubstantiated personal opinion.  

An employee who is not happy with a reference given may request a copy of any reference given from their previous employer.

What is the risk in providing an inaccurate reference?

A disappointed job applicant could bring a claim and request damages if they believe a reference provided was misleading or inaccurate and they suffered a loss such as a withdrawal of a job offer.

Whilst this article focuses on the employer giving the reference, the ACAS guidance also provides useful guidance for potential employers seeking references and employees.