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09th April 2015

How do you respond to reference requests for past employees?

Searching personEmployers in our sector often enquire about giving references. Some are nervous about offering any confidential information, and are concerned that the information they provide to the prospective employer could land them in hot water.

When responding to any reference request, the duty is on the employer to ensure that the information given is true, accurate and fair. This approach should keep you from being scalded.

Points to consider

So, the next time you receive a reference request for a past employee, consider the following points which will assist you with your response:

  • Is the reference you are providing on behalf of the business or is it a personal reference?
  • If given on company letterhead or from a company email address then it is on behalf of the business.
  • As an employer you need to clearly identify who has authority to give references.
  • Keep a consistent approach for all replies. The key information to include is:
    - Start date of employment
    - Position held
    - Salary and other contractual benefits
    - Last date of employment
    - Reason for leaving
  • Finally, ensure you have a disclaimer at the bottom of your response to say you will be not be held responsible for an errors/omissions in this document.

Between a rock and a hard place?

We often find that the concern in giving references arises if the ex-employee was dismissed from the business. Information about this can be provided, but remember you must be able to substantiate it. Our advice is that if you can’t substantiate the information then avoid including it in your reply. If you choose to provide this information, you could be at risk of the past employee suing you for damages. On the other hand, if you choose to ignore the reference request it could be viewed that there is something to hide.

Of course, if you mislead a future employer then they could sue you for damages. The proverbial rock and hard place.

I should add that if there are safeguarding issues involved, you would be wise to consult your local Adult Protection, Child Protection, or equivalent officer before providing any reference.

The final point to mention is that once the ex-employee starts work with a new employer they can ask to see a copy of the reference. The new employer is expected to protect the identity of the person giving the reference, but this is not always realistic.

The CIPD provide some frequently asked questions on legal issues relating to references.

Anita Manfredi of Employer Solutions – QCS HR Expert Contributor

Topics: Human Resources

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