Employment References – The employer’s guide

With January traditionally being a time for job hunting, owners of small businesses may find themselves asking for, and being asked for, more employment references than usual. Is your business prepared? Do you know your obligations regarding employment references?

Do you have to provide an employment reference?

Employment references give important information to potential employees regarding the suitability of an applicant for a role. They are often asked for in job applications, but there is no legal obligation to provide them.

It is up to you and your business whether you provide a reference and how much information it contains. However, if you do give a reference you must make them fair and accurate. It may just be the basic facts of an individual’s employment with you, or a more detailed overview. This can also depend on the nature of your relationship with the employee – as an employer you need to give the facts of employment, but as a manager you may want to provide details of the applicant’s character, strengths and weaknesses.

It is best practice to have a policy to help you and any managers handle reference requests, so everyone is aware what information they can provide.

Asking for employment references for a role

If you would like references from an applicant, they can be requested at any stage of the recruitment process. You must tell applicants if they will be required and at what stage of the recruitment process when they initially apply.

You must only seek a reference from their current employer with their permission.

What should an employment reference include?

Acas guidance states that references can include:

  • basic facts about the job applicant, like employment dates and job descriptions
  • answers to questions such as absence levels and confirming the reason for leaving
  • details about the job applicant’s skills and abilities
  • details about the job applicant’s character, strengths and weaknesses

References should not include irrelevant personal information.

Can you give a bad employment reference?

A reference must be a factual, accurate and fair reflection of the job applicant. Therefore, when opinions are provided, they should be based on facts and not be subjective comments. While you must ensure that your references are not misleading or inaccurate, you can still state the facts relating to the applicant’s skills, experience and strengths.

Some examples where a ‘bad’ reference might be applicable is where the job applicant doesn’t have enough experience of relevant responsibilities, that the reason for leaving the current job is different to what the job applicant put in their application, or that the job applicant doesn’t describe their current job properly.

Using social media to recruit employees

Social media presents a lot of benefits to recruitment, providing both a wider and more targeted approach to finding employers. In some cases, it has changed how employers approach recruitment, and may be the only way they recruit candidates. This in itself may be seen as discriminatory. Using more than one channel of recruitment helps attract potential candidates from different backgrounds. Recruiting from a wider pool of people, not just via social media, can help your business build a diverse workforce.

It can be tempting to look at job candidates’ social media profiles to find out more about the applicant. However, this can be unfair and carries the risk of discrimination. Using information from a candidate’s social media profile without their permission in the recruitment process could also breach GDPR rules.

If you have questions regarding employment references, contact me today


Workplace Investigations – How do you carry out investigations in the workplace?

There are essential decisions and actions that you must undertake when conducting an investigation in your business. Are you following guidelines and conducting any necessary workplace investigation properly? Take a look at our guide.

What is an investigation?

Acas describes an investigation as “a fact-finding exercise to collect all the relevant information on a matter”.

Dealing with problems in the workplace may require an investigation to ensure that you, or your management team, have fully considered the matter and are aware of all the facts before a decision is made.

When do you need an investigation?

If you cannot resolve an incident informally, then an investigation may be necessary to provide support and evidence for a formal action. This could include allegations of bullying, concerns over company policies or procedures, or receiving a grievance from an employee.

For example, if you think there are grounds to dismiss an employee, you must be able to prove that misconduct has occurred and that there has been a reasonable investigation into the matter. Not doing so can leave you at risk to claims of unfair dismissal.

What does an investigation entail?

An investigation obviously needs an investigator, who should be fair, objective and, wherever possible, not personally involved in the issue. This investigator needs clear guidance on what they are required to investigate before they gather and document the related issues and evidence.

The reporting of their findings and what is required of them should also be made clear. As a rule, investigators should not be involved in any subsequent decision-making.

Acas states the role of the investigator should include:

  • considering what the issues of the matter under investigation are,
  • planning how the investigation will be conducted,
  • deciding in what order evidence will be collected,
  • collecting all relevant evidence and consider what the evidence shows,
  • reporting their findings.

Once the evidence has been collated and presented, your management team should be able to make a fair and reasonable decision, supported by evidence, about an issue.

If you would like more help and guidance about workplace investigations or any HR matters, contact HR That Helps Today.



How will the National Living Wage affect my business?

With the new mandatory National Living Wage (NLW) for workers aged 25 and above set to come into force from April 2016, have you prepared for the changes? If your business is affected, it could impact on more areas than purely the cost of paying your staff enough to meet the NLW target. It could also affect how you pay your staff, employee morale, employment law, internal communications and recruitment.

How does the National Living Wage work with the National Minimum Wage?

The adult National Minimum Wage (NMW) rate is currently £6.70 per hour. From 1st April 2016, the National Living Wage will come into effect on top of the NMW, taking the national living wage to £7.20 for those who are 25 and over.

The NMW still applies to those under 25 years old, but without the NLW premium.

How does this affect my business?

With the changes due to affect at least 20% of businesses (November 2015 report from the Resolution Foundation and the CIPD, polling 1,037 employers), you need to consider the implications of the NLW wage now.

There will be extra costs generated by NLW implementation, payroll costs and forecasting, and a considerable impact on your recruitment policies. You may need to:

  • Cut back on discretionary payroll costs, such as bonuses and overtime,
  • Consider not filling vacancies, and reducing how many people you need to hire,
  • Boost productivity and efficiency in your employees.

However, there will also be implications for employment law for those looking at these areas to cope with the extra financial strain of the NLW. If you are looking at reducing your workforce through redundancies, this needs to be considered carefully (look at my previous blog post on Redundancies for more information). Focusing on hiring people under 25 to reduce costs could also lead to age discrimination claims so clear HR/recruitment policies must be in place.

What next for my business?

With the implementation date fast approaching, you need to consider the impact of the National Living Wage now. Will it affect your business? How will you cope with the associated costs? Have you checked and revised your HR Policies and any employment law issues?

To find out more about how the NLW could affect your business, contact me today.

More information about NLW

Zero Hours Contracts – Do You Know The Rules?

As the amount of people working under zero hours contracts rises ever higher, new legislation brought in by the Government this year has raised a lot of questions from employers. Can you still employ people on zero hours contracts? What about enforcing exclusivity clauses in your zero hours contracts? Here’s a HR legislation update to keep you on top of the rules.

You can still employ people on zero hours contracts

Last month the Office for National Statistics reported that the use of zero hours contracts had jumped by one-fifth. The Government deems these contracts useful where work demands are irregular, and they also allow a level of flexibility for employees in regards to other commitments such as childcare or study.

Therefore, they are of benefit to a company where you may need additional staff at short notice, your business is seasonal with surges in demand at certain times of the year, or you are starting a new service or business and you are not certain about staffing requirements.

This arrangement can be of benefit to both employers and employees. Recent CIPD figures have shown that zero-hours workers are just as satisfied with their job when compared to the average UK employee (60% vs 59%) and are happier with their work/life balance (65% vs 58%).

The Government guidance also states where zero hours contracts would not be appropriate, especially when working hours are fixed for a long period of time.

The ban of the exclusivity clause

The initial guidance on the ban on exclusivity in zero hours contracts was vague, but the Government has recently released guidance for employers on what this means for them.

Since May 2015 employers have not been able to enforce exclusivity clauses in their contracts, and this applies to existing clauses too. Your zero hours employees can no longer work for you, and you only.

You can not prevent casual staff working for another employer, even though they are not guaranteed work, even if the clause was in place before May 2015. The employee also can not suffer a detriment in that job if they choose to ignore the longstanding exclusivity clause and get another job at the same time.

Need some more guidance?

If you are unsure about the use of zero hours contracts, whether they would be of benefit to your company, or if your exclusivity clauses are out of date, contact me today for HR advice and guidance.

Find out more





Top Tips for Recruitment

When a small or medium sized business begin recruiting for new members of staff, there are a multitude of concerns. You need to think about how to write the job advertisement, where to place it, who should interview the applicants, how they are evaluated, and much more. The subconscious bias that may influence the process doesn’t occur to many, but it should be an important consideration of any MD, HR manager or department.

Subconcious Bias

A recent CIPD study concluded that subconscious bias is still prevalent in recruitment. Bosses tend to employ people with similar hobbies, experiences, dress sense and mannerisms as themselves, despite the fact that these qualities have no bearing on a candidate’s ability to do the job. Subconscious bias in recruitment is a big issue. It can significantly decrease the diversity in your workforce, as well as meaning that the right person for the job isn’t always the one appointed!

The research report, conducted in August 2015, found that candidates with ‘white-sounding’ names were called-back more often than those without, even when their CVs were identical. Both male and female managers also favour men over women when looking for new employees.

The emphasis on getting the right ‘fit’ for the company means that managers tend to employ people who are similar in non-relevant ways to existing employees or the decision-makers themselves. Concerns about applicants being too dis-similar to the existing workforce often override concerns about productivity or skill.


Interviewing candidates is a long and strenuous task in most cases. The CIPD study showed that fatigue can set in as early as the fourth interview, with confirmation bias and ‘selective hearing’

Jonny Gifford, researcher advisor at the CIPD, commented on the study. “If you’re doing a number of interviews in a row, you start to make quicker judgements on whether you think people are in or out. So you’re taking in less information and you’re jumping to conclusions more,” said Gifford.

Top Tips

So what can you do to combat this subconscious bias in your own organisation? The CIPD has some great tips for better recruitment practice:

  • Take a fresh look at person–organisation fit, considering both current and aspirational organisational culture.
  • Test the wording of your job adverts to see how it affects who applies.
  • Group and anonymise CVs when reviewing them.
  • Pre-commit to a set of interview questions that are directly related to
  • performance on the job.
  • Focus interviews on collecting information, not making the decision.
  • Include people in hiring decisions who have not been involved in
  • assessing candidates.
  • Stick to what the scores tell you for final decisions.
  • Spread assessments and decisions across days, but keep all other
  • conditions similar.
  • If discussing subconscious bias, emphasise the desired behaviour of
  • assessors, rather than the problem.
  • Evaluate your assessment practices.
  • Ask for feedback from rejected and accepted candidates.

What do you think? Is subconscious bias a problem for your recruitment process?

Find out more on the CIPD website

Personal Relationships at Work – Have you got a policy in place?

Do you have a HR policy on personal relationships in your business? Whether it is a romantic or family relationship, it’s worth having steps in place that protect you, and the people involved, from potential risks that could harm them personally, and your company.

The commercial risk of favouritism and falsifying documents is a real one. You need to alert your managers to the risks, and make them aware of how employees may perceive (fairly or not) promotions, pay rises and job roles as a result of these relationships.

As with any relationship, there are two sides to this story that you need to consider – how to handle existing relationships within your business, and how best to protect your business should any new ones emerge.

Is it my problem?

If any relationship, romantic or otherwise, between two employees has or is likely to have an impact on working relationships, it is your business. Just thinking about these potential situations could give you a serious headache, even without a mention of a direct conflict of interest…

  • What if a manager starts seeing someone in his or her direct reporting line?
  • What are the potential implications for a father and son working together?
  • What if a new client is related to someone in your business?
  • How do you handle the fall out of failed relationship where the individuals are in the same department?

You can see already the potential for a breach of confidentiality, accusations of favouritism, sexual harassment claims, and much more.

As everyone knows, the workplace is a common place to meet potential partners. Statistics, and they vary; suggest that 40 – 56% of business professionals have had office romances. This could increase further in the future with longer working hours. Of those who started a relationship at work, nearly one third said their office romances lead to marriage. So you need to act now.

What do you need to do?

It’s worth creating a Personal Relationships at Work Policy, that details what is defined as a personal relationship, how it should be disclosed and who to, and the risks. These potential risks are then managed by setting rules of conduct in the workplace; and actions and remedies should a conflict, perceived or actual, occur.

These remedies could include moving individuals to different departments or buildings and changing aspects of management, decision-making and authority if there is a risk of the relationship interfering with the professional conduct and integrity of the business.

You should also consider running anti-sexual harassment training on a regular basis.

Do you have any policies in place with regards to personal relationships at work? Are they working for you? Let me know!

Pension Auto Enrolment: It’s all about administration, not pensions

Due to the legal changes for workplace pensions, all companies, no matter how small, now need to provide automatic pension schemes and contributions for their staff. So even if you only employ one person, you still need to make sure you comply with Pension Auto Enrolment.

Every employer now has new duties, and subject to criteria, every member of staff will be enrolled into a workplace pension scheme with the employer contributing towards it.

And it may be ‘automatic’ enrolment for your staff, but it isn’t automatic for you. It is huge increase in admin that you and your HR staff need to plan for. The ‘auto enrolment’ aspect is much more of a task than the ‘pension’!

As an employer, automatic enrolment will also result in extra cost. For the first time, you are obliged to pay into an employee’s pension unless they opt out. Even if you already provide a pension, the number of members will probably increase.

So how will your administration workload increase? You will have to:

  • communicate to your staff about the changes
  • introduce procedures to cope with auto-enrolment
  • choose a pension provider, if you haven’t got one already
  • implement the necessary software
  • deal with the pension providers
  • amend your existing pension scheme, if you need to
  • ensure you comply with The Pensions Regulator
  • rewrite your induction package to include the new scheme for any new starters.

You must make sure you have one or more qualifying pension schemes, which includes a formal agreement that you, as the employer, will pay the minimum contribution. As employees are automatically enrolled, they are not required to make any decisions, so there must be a suitable default investment option available.

Your next steps

Visit the Government’s Pensions Regulator website, which includes the 7 key steps you need to follow.

If you require advice about how to manage this complicated and compulsory regulation, the extra burden on your HR staff, or any other aspect of HR, talk to me today.

Driving Licence Changes– what do you need to know as an employer?

LicenceSince 8 June 2015, the paper counterparts to driving licences are no longer issued by DVLA, or recognised as valid. These paper counterparts usually hold valuable information regarding an individual’s licence – such as address details, categories of entitlement and fines.

This information is obviously crucial if you are employing people as drivers. You are responsible for making sure that anyone you employ has the right licence and qualifications. These checks have to be carried out regularly. If an employee receives a ban and doesn’t let you know, whilst continuing to use a company car, for example, your insurance will be invalid.

So how can you still make sure that anyone you employ has the right licence and qualifications without being able to check the paper counterpart?

The DVLA has two options for employers.

Share my Record – while licence holders can view their licence online, it is restricted to that individual alone. However, they can create a one-off licence check code to share the record with a third party. This includes employers and car hire companies. This unique code is only valid for 72 hours, so some organisation is required by both parties.

Postal or Telephone Checking – You, as the employer, can contact the DVLA by post or telephone to check an individual’s licence details. This does cost money however, with a premium rate number to call the DVLA and a £5 charge for checking by post.

If you employ drivers, or are just about to, make sure you know your obligations. You must ensure that all your employees have the right driving licence, and training if they are required to drive goods vehicles. If you use foreign drivers you must also take care to confirm that they know the rules for driving in the UK.

For any queries relating to employing drivers, or the recent changes to paper counterpart licences, contact me today. I provide much needed commercially aware, risk focused HR advice and support to SME’s and other businesses.

The Most Common (and Expensive!) HR Mistakes You Can Make

I often find the same problems in most of the companies I work with; and they are often very easily rectified. Here are my top three common HR mistakes, and what you can do as a manager to make sure they don’t apply to you!

1. Missing out on expert advice

In my experience, HR managers often feel they have to deal with situations themselves and miss out on valuable advice, particularly with regards to Occupational Health. You don’t know how much you can pry into the details of an employee’s illness, for example, and therefore you can be guilty of letting the problem get out of hand. Making the wrong call can be an expensive one, increasing the risk of a tribunal claim.

Securing the right HR, legal or medical advice at the right point not only helps you, but referring someone to an expert can also nudge the employee themselves into action.

2. Avoiding difficult performance conversations

People often contact me first and don’t speak to the employee themselves. You need to stop being kind and manage the situation.

Not talking about your concerns with an employee early enough, or with enough authority, can lead to more problems later. This can also seriously impact on your credibility within the business. Your team will get fed up of carrying an employee who isn’t performing as well – and you will get the blame. You need to manage your credibility as well as the employees within your team.

3. Brushing off Banter

This can be something as innocent as a Birthday or Retirement card, but it still has the potential to offend. Comments about peoples’ ages, mentioning that it’s time to retire, sexual innuendo, and so on; may be intended to amuse or provide a bit of light hearted entertainment but you must make your staff aware that even the simplest things can often cause offence in the workplace. I had an example of this recently with a simple retirement card. Comments that were made in jest actually caused the employee offence.

You need to be aware of the implications of workplace banter and put training in place so your staff are aware too. Banter can very easily turn into harassment.

If any of these apply to you (and I’m sure that they will) talk to me today to make sure the policies, procedures and training are put in place so they don’t result in increase costs and issues further down the line.

For more on common HR mistakes, read this article from the CIPD

Anti-Tattoo Discrimination – Will It Affect Your Business?

With growing numbers of employees with tattoos, your business needs to define its policy. Research cited by the British Association of Dermatologists in 2012 states that one in five Britons now has a tattoo. As tattoos become more fashionable, and more visible, companies have had to deal with rising numbers of employees and applicants taking issue with rules about body art in the workplace.

Although this is not a legal issue in this country (however there are several e-petitions that wish to make it so), making a firm position on the topic can save hassle and potential action in the future.

What are the rules about tattoos?

Policies that restrict tattoos are commonplace in the UK. The law states that it is legal for managers to refuse to hire someone on the basis of their tattoos. Secondary legislation of the 2010 Equality Act specifically excluded tattoos and piercings from the definition of a severe disfigurement, on which basis an employer cannot discriminate, with the only exception being if the tattoo were connected to their religion or beliefs (which the employee would have to prove).

If you employ someone in a customer-facing role, or believe that their tattoos could cause offence, you are entitled to refuse them a job on that basis.

If a current employee decides to have a tattoo, that again may be perceived to be offensive or detract from their work, there could be grounds for fair dismissal. However, for this to take place your company needs to have a clear policy on tattoos and other body modifications.

What does my policy need to contain?

It is important to state your rules on tattoos, and ensure a fair policy for staff. You may need to protect your brand image and reputation; therefore visible tattoos (on the face or hands, for example) would not be appropriate. The subject matter and design of tattoos can also be an issue – tattoos may be considered offensive to your customers, for religious or racial reasons.

What are the implications?

With growing numbers of young people with tattoos, there may be a time where a blanket ban may not be so practical. You may find that, particularly if you need specialist skills, a no-tattoo policy may exclude talented people from your workforce. Smaller, less offensive designs may be more acceptable and you need to consider this within your policy.

To find out more about how a HR Policy for tattoos and body art will benefit your company, contact me today

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