ACAS guidance: Job references

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ACAS has published new guidance on job references (available here), which helps clarify the rules around employment references for employers and employees.  While ACAS has previously given limited guidance on employment references in its advisory booklet on recruitment and induction, this is its first comprehensive guidance tailored to employers, particularly on more complex issues such as giving negative references.

The guidance covers matters such as:

  • what a reference must include;
  • whether or not a reference must be provided;
  • whether an employer can give a bad reference;
  • problems with references; and
  • job offers and references.

Tips provided in the guidance include:

  • employers must only seek a reference from a job applicant’s current employers with their permission;
  • references can include basic facts about the job applicant, answer specific questions from the potential employer and comment on the job applicant’s skills and abilities, character, and strengths and weaknesses. It is generally for the current/ex-employer to decide how much information it is willing to provide;
  • potential employers should remember a referee may not provide a reference or might inaccurately suggest the applicant is suitable. In these circumstances, it may help to discuss any concerns with the job applicant directly first;
  • a potential employer can offer a “conditional job offer,” which can be withdrawn if the employer’s conditions are not met. Receipt of a satisfactory reference is a commonly imposed condition;
  • employers are entitled to give a reference that states that the job applicant is not suitable for the job he or she is applying for, or that the reason for leaving the job is different from what is stated in the application;
  • employers providing references must ensure that the reference is accurate, fair, and not misleading. The job applicant may be able to claim damages in court if he or she can prove the reference was misleading or inaccurate and the applicant suffered loss as a result; and
  • if a potential employer is unable to obtain references from the nominated referees, it can seek alternative references or may choose to hire the job applicant with a probationary period to assess his or her suitability for the role.
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