Tell me no lies – By Eluned Ward

As there are headlines across the press predicting compensation of up to £750,000 million awarded to workers within the construction industry due to them being blacklisted which involved companies sharing information on applicants which was negative and subjective) , it again will make organisations nervous about providing references on ex- employees, following other cases where poor references have resulted in claims up to £42,500.  Anybody that has recruited in the last 20 years will have seen there has been a significant decline in the number of companies who are willing to provide information on ex-employees.  As somebody that has worked in the HR field, I see this as a shame as comprehensive references are a useful tool in the selection process and even the basic references can be used to fact check against a person’s CV.  However there are some things companies need to consider when completing references or providing information:

  • From the outset decide whether you want to provide a reference. There is no requirement for an organisation to provide a reference on an ex-employee.  However, you need to make sure that your contracts of employments do not state you will provide a reference or their employment is not regulated by an industry body like the Financial Services Authority.  To avoid any claims of discrimination by not completing a reference you need to be consistent in your approach and respond to any requests by stating it is Company policy not to provide a reference;
  • Be clear to employees on who can provide references on behalf of the Company explaining that if they provide a reference it can only be a personal reference and not on Company letterhead or via Company’s emails. It is always best to have a central point for dealing with reference requests so that the Company can ensure correct factual information is sent and reduces any liability towards the Company;
  • Be aware that although you don’t have to provide a copy of a reference to an ex-employee, a new employer does have to disclose it as long as you have consented to its disclosure or it is ‘reasonable in all the circumstances’. The new employee has to consider whether they have duty of confidentiality.
  • Stick to the facts. You can provide more detail in a reference than just the person’s employment dates and job title as long as it is factual and is requested by the new employer.  However you cannot cherry pick what information you provide so if you answer a number of questions a new employee asks but avoids answering others it looks like there is a something the Company is trying to hide.
  • You can provide negative information in a reference as long as it is factual based and not malicious i.e. disciplinary warnings. By leaving out if an employee has been dismissed or important factual information, and it results in the new employee losing money, you could be held liable for the cost.
  • If a reference is agreed as part of a settlement agreement, do not deviate from it and this includes providing information over the phone.


If you have any questions regarding what you should and shouldn’t do with references, please do not hesitate to contact the helpline as part of the service from HPC we can provide references on ex-employees on behalf of our clients as well as obtaining references on perspective employees.

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