Ask Sheila - Archive England

Sheila Scott OBE has now retired and therefore is no longer available to answer your social care questions. However, you might still find the answer you’ve been searching for down below.

10th September 2015

Quality staff references

In this industry where it is SO important to check out the credentials, skills, abilities and character of a new employee from their previous employers, could you possibly give reasons why it is that we so often receive responses similar to the following:

"It is out company policy only to provide confirmation of employment and length of service"

We use the QCS recruitment paperwork with the hopes of achieving a good quality, well-informed reference, with scores for a variety of points, however these are seldom returned, instead we get a letter stating something similar to the above.

This only contributes to the difficulty in recruiting high calibre staff and increases the costs and length of time involved with this whole procedure.  Is this just another one of those frustrating barriers in this industry?

Reece Welch
Care Home Deputy Manager

Dear Reece,

Thank you for your HR question, you are absolutely right that this is one of the big challenges faced by social care providers. I want to assure you though that this is not just a problem in Adult Social Care, it seems to be a problem for most providers.

I asked Oliver McCann, Expert Employment Law Contributor from Napthens, our Health & Social Care legal partners to give us an expert response and Oliver says:

Many employers elect to provide basic factual information in a reference because they are fearful of a potential claim arising from a more detailed reference which a disgruntled ex employee may allege is false, negligent or discriminatory.

Employers do not have a legal obligation to provide a reference unless:

  1. They have contractually agreed to do so (either expressly or implicitly);
  2. They operate in a regulated sector, such as Financial Services, which requires employers to provide references.

If you choose to provide a reference then the obligation is to ensure that:-

  1. You have authority to do so from the ex-employee (as this may involve disclosing personal data) – particular important if you are disclosing information on sickness leave and/or disciplinary issues
  2. The reference is factually accurate and not misleading
  3. It is not discriminatory ie making unnecessary reference s to an ex-employee’s past discrimination complaints – making such references could be an act of victimisation

It is the latter two points which have resulted in minimal factual information being provided.

So there is no legal barrier to providing more information in references, just concerns over litigation.


*All information is correct at the time of publishing.


About Sheila

Sheila Scott OBE has now retired and over the years , prior to her retirement she has answered thousands of your social questions. You can still access the many questions below.

For Sheila Scott OBE from National Care Association (NCA), care is Sheila's life. She possesses a strong command of the issues facing the care sector informed by her long career as a nursing professional, the owner and manager of a care business, and as a leader in the care sector.

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