When an employee leaves your business, they may ask you to provide a reference to help them in their application to a job elsewhere.
You aren’t required by law to provide this, but you must make sure any references you do give are fair and accurate.
Many businesses prefer to keep to simple, factual confirmations of the job that the employee undertook for them and nothing more. It is fine for you to adopt a similar policy, but you should make it clear that it’s your practice and ensure that you stick to it.
Any staff members who have been asked, and are willing, to provide a personal reference for the outgoing employee should understand that you do not object to this, but you do require them to make clear to the reference-asker that they are providing the reference in their personal capacity, and are not authorised to provide it on behalf of your business.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re asked to give a reference…
Consider the questions carefully
The questions you’re asked should be directly related to the job the candidate is applying for, rather than anything personal.
If you haven’t been given a job description for the new role and you’re unsure whether a question is appropriate or not, ask the interviewer to send a job description for you to review before responding to the question.
Ensure your comments are as clear and factually accurate as possible
If not, your reference might be misconstrued as a negative description of your former employee. If this happens and the employee disagrees with the reference, they can apply to claim damages in court.
In addition, a reference seen as more positive than you intended could result in the new employer claiming damages against you, if the employee doesn't match up to the reference you gave them.
(You can see why so many employers stick to very limited factual confirmations only!)
Being clear and factually accurate does not mean you have to write loads or indeed to justify in detail what you do write.
Be fact-specific with negative references
If you’re giving a reference for a former employee who showed poor performance, was dismissed for serious misconduct, or whose departure from your business was less than ideal - meaning that you can’t rightfully give a completely positive review, you should explain concisely, but accurately, the nature of the employee’s departure. If disciplinary procedures were instigated, you should make this clear.
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