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