Are Employment References always necessary – An Employers and HR Guide

Are Employment References always necessary – An Employers and HR Guide

With recruitment at a peak you will undoubtedly have new starters joining you, that means you will be seeking references  If you do not do so already, we always strongly advise that you do take up references, regardless of how you view the candidate in the first instance, you may already know them or have worked with them before. Whilst CV’s can be well written prospective Employees can, and do embellish, and at times lie on them, there are many candidates that are excellent in interviews and can sell themselves amazingly well.

It may only become apparent upon commencement to their role that your new starter really is not the person they led you to believe them to be both on their CV and at interview.

In our article we take a look at references, and what you can do as an Employer to protect yourself.

Why not take a read today:

What are employment references and how should you request them?

You should ensure you obtain at least two written references, in most instances these would be in the form of employment references, from prospective candidates the most recent two Employers.


Commonly, there are two types on Employment references these being, basic and detailed, the most common are basic references.

A basic reference, sometimes referred to as a factual reference, in short,  just a summary of their employment, with you. It would be in the form of a letter and include areas such as:


  • start and end date of employment
  • job title/s held whilst in employment


The second type is a detailed reference, Employers are hesitant to provide these, as they can/may lead to issues in the future, we will discuss these in more detail later, a detailed reference which could be provided in the format of a proforma or checklist, and may include:


  • any of the answers to the questions from your requesting reference
  • details about the prospective Employees skills, ability, knowledge, and experience
  • any particular strengths and weaknesses which relate to the suitability for the role
  • sickness and absence levels
  • disciplinary records
  • reason for leaving


Can you rescind, or terminate if your new starter turns out to have poor references?

In the first instance you must ensure that any offer of employment you make is a conditional one, you should confirm this in writing to your newbie, you should add to the letter that the conditional offer is subject to you receiving satisfactory references, it is at that stage, if in receipt of unsatisfactory references, you can rescind the offer, and or terminate due to that reason.

We are offering you our letter that you can use when sending out, this is the reference request to seek a reference from a previous employer.

You can access the letter which is easy to use here:

What if you cannot obtain Employment references?

You may find that employment references cannot be obtained, possibly due to it being a first job, you could then request references from the most recent place of study college, or even character references.

When requesting these types of references, you should ask them to provide their personal opinion, this would be in relation to areas including:


  • personality
  • character
  • suitability for the post

Which should also include:

  • honesty
  • integrity
  • reliability


When you are the person supplying the reference, it is important that references do not:


  • contain misleading information
  • contain irrelevant personal information about the individual


It is important that if you are providing the reference then you must ensure that the details about their role or performance is fair and accurate.

If you are providing an opinion, you must have evidence to support your opinion.

For example, if an individual’s absence record highlights failings, then the reference should not reflect otherwise.


It is also worth pointing out that where a family friend, and or relative has been provided as a referee this may be of little use as a personal reference, it is invariably the case that referees of this nature either provide glowing references, and, or can be penned by the prospective Employee themselves.


What happens if the Employer simply refuses to provide a reference?

It is more commonplace for Employers to refuse to supply references at all and have a blanket policy on this, there are exceptions to this, such as:


  • the Employer has a policy in place that they will provide one but don’t
  • in particular financial services jobs, these are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) or Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), these are usually for jobs known as ‘controlled functions’



What information can you collect, should you retain it, and why?

Your Employees and prospective Employees do have the right of access to information held about them by you as an Employer, this is covered under the Data Protection Act 2018 (GDPR), they can access data held by you by making a ‘data subject access request’ (DSAR).

You should have a policy in place that informs not just your Employees of this but also prospective Employees too.


What should you do if an Employee, or a prospective Employee requests to see a reference?

At this stage you may be wondering do I then need to disclose the references that are sent to me if an Employee or Prospective Employee asks to see them?.

The answer is, not necessarily, there is an exemption that allows you to refuse to disclose a confidential employment reference to an Employee or Prospective Employee if they request to see it. You need not provide access to the reference, unless you chose to, the choice is yours.

A word of warning, if you chose to disclose, you should be careful not to disclose information about any third party, such as the referee, unless either they have consented to the disclosure, or it is reasonable to disclose the reference without their express consent.

It may be that you take the decision to disclose an edited version of the reference, for example, this may contain just the factual information and with the referee’s identity redacted, you would in this situation redact personal opinions.

The disclosure of references may lead to discrimination claims being brought to tribunal where information is/may not be factual, and or misleading, you need to be careful.



How can we help you?

We are here to provide full advice, support, and guidance. We can advise in any HR or Employment Law matter: you can contact a member of our team on 0333 006 9489 or [email protected]





This article contains a general overview of information only. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon, as legal advice. You should consult a suitably qualified lawyer on any specific legal problem or matter.

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