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


Recruitment – Best Practice in process and interviews

As 2018 kicks off your business might be thinking about recruitment. Have you got the right processes in place to promote best practice? You need to ensure recruitment takes place fairly with minimal risk. After all, your organisation will thrive with the right staff, but finding the best person for the job takes skill. Take a look at our best practice advice below.


Acas states, “securing the best person for the job entails an employer setting up a well-structured process to:

  • accurately assess its staffing needs
  • attract applicants
  • efficiently handle applications
  • select candidates for interview or other kinds of assessment
  • pinpoint the best candidate
  • offer the job, tie up final details and deal with any queries.”

One of the most important elements of recruitment is to make sure that all of your processes do not discriminate. For example, make sure that at least two people look through applications for a role, that you don’t ask questions about marital status or age in an interview and that you have a detailed and fair process for evaluating prospective employees.

As a business you have a responsibility to ensure that no unlawful discrimination occurs at any stage in the recruitment process on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, maternity, pregnancy, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.

Regularly checking and revising your recruitment processes is also beneficial. Take time to make sure that it works well, introduce improvements and communicate to all your managers and staff what is expected of them when they are searching for a new employee.

The right questions

The questions you ask in an interview are, in a small business, usually up to the individual interviewer and the role. However there are questions that you should avoid to make sure that your interview does not discriminate and leave your company open to accusations to bias.

Some examples of good interview questions are

  • What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
  • What attracted you to this role?
  • What are your main strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your main motivations?
  • What type of people do you like to work with?

These are open questions that look at the interviewee’s skills and aptitude for the job, and how well they would fit into a team. Don’t ask questions that are of a personal nature, including age, gender or religion or ones that have a standard answer that are unlikely to uncover any insight into how the person will work with your company.

Prepare for their first day

Once you have chosen a candidate and they have accepted, don’t leave preparations for their first day to chance. Ensure that you have an good induction plan and training to settle them into their new role and welcome them into your business.

If you have questions about best practice in recruitment, contact me today to see how I can help your business




Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Everyone knows it is illegal to discriminate an employee, job seeker or trainee in terms of his or her age. However, do you know that The Equality Act 2010 also makes it unlawful to discriminate against people in terms of their ‘perceived’ age or the ages of those they associate with?

Take a look at our guide to age discrimination in the workplace for more information.

What is age discrimination?

When an employer denies certain employees promotions, jobs or comparable wages because of their age, it is age discrimination. It may also occur on an everyday level – belitting or harassing people because of their age, for example saying that they are ‘too old’ or even comments about retirement with the ‘pipe and slippers’ cliché.

Acas breaks down age discrimination into four main types

1. Direct discrimination
This direct discrimination could be down to the employee’s actual age, but it could also caused by their perceived age. For example, if an employee misses opportunities because it is felt they look younger than they actually are. It may also be a result of who the employee associates with, for instance if they regularly socialise with people younger or older than themselves.

2. Indirect discrimination

Indirectly discriminating against an employee, or a group of employees, can occur where there is a policy, practice, procedure or workplace rule that applies to everyone but particularly disadvantages people of a particular age.

Acas states that one example is “a requirement for job applicants to have worked in a particular industry for ten years may disadvantage younger people.”

3. Harassment

As with any harassment or bullying, unwanted attention and comments related to an individual’s age can create an intimidating, hostile and offensive environment.

4. Victimisation

Victimisation is where there is unfair treatment of an employee who has made or supported a complaint about age discrimination.

Are there exceptions?

In some limited circumstances, indirect discrimination may be justified if it is ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. This is where the law permits employers to discriminate because of a person’s age in a range of situations, if the employer can show that what it has done is justified. This may include setting a maximum age for physically demanding jobs, benefits based on length of service, minimum wage qualifications or insurance or related financial services.

How can you prevent age discrimination in your workplace?

You must have policies in place that clearly set out the obligations to all employees to treat people fairly regardless of age, and educate your staff on their responsibilities. This would include policies such as

  • recruitment
  • terms and conditions of employment
  • training and development
  • promotion
  • discipline and grievances
  • bullying and harassment
  • dismissal and redundancies.

If you require help introducing policies that prevent age discrimination in your business, contact us today.




Staff Handbooks – why do you need them?

A staff handbook might seem like some unnecessary admin, especially when you class yourself as an SME or growing business. However, keeping employees informed of how your company works is an essential piece of communication and can really contribute to the efficiency of your organisation.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

What is a staff handbook?

A staff handbook is, simply, a reference document can be made available to each employee containing information about your company. This may include company rules, HR policies, terms and conditions of employment and information on facilities and amenities.

What do you put in a staff handbook?

The staff handbook gives details of the employment relationship; provides a source of information about their workplace and gives expectations of behaviour.

Basic HR policies that should be included are:

  • Disciplinary Policy and Procedure
  • Grievance Policy
  • Equal Opportunity Policy
  • Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy
  • IT Use Policy
  • Social Media Policy

It can increase understanding of your actions as an employer, and well as improving trust between you and your employees. Introducing a dialogue between you and your employees about what should be included in the staff handbook, as well as making changes to policies where reasonable, can also improve communication, trust and morale.

What format should the staff handbook take?

Whether the staff handbook is basic or very extensive is up to you. It is preferable for it to be non contractual, to protect you as the employer from being in breach of contract if it is not followed to the letter.

The handbook does not need to be printed or expensively produced. In some cases it may require no more than stapling together various pieces of existing information, or creating a soft-copy pack to be emailed through to employees.

Has your business got a staff handbook? Do you think your staff handbook needs updating? Contact HR That Helps today to find out more about how these documents can create a more efficient and risk-aware business.

What are your employee’s holiday rights?

Whether you have employees that have just started with your company, are part-time or just about to go on maternity leave, holiday rights and entitlements can get complicated. Make sure you know enough about the holiday entitlements of your employees to protect your business.

Take a look at our fact file of what you need to know, and make sure to contact us if you have any further queries or issues!

Make sure you have an annual leave policy

All employees and workers* are entitled to paid leave, so make sure you include entitlements, HR procedures and processes within contracts, inductions and your staff handbook where relevant. Regularly reinforcing your processes makes sure that everyone, employees and managers, are aware of holiday rights.

Holiday rights are usually discussed as the employee starts work, and sometimes at the recruitment and interview stage. The entitlement should then be confirmed with the formal job offer or contract.

By law, there must be a form of written statement regarding holiday and annual leave that must be given to employees by the employer no later than two months after the employee begins work.

What are employees entitled to?

Most employees are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday per year, with part-time employees entitled to the same amount of holiday (pro rota) as full time colleagues. There is no legal right to paid public or bank holidays.

If employment ends, employees have the right to be paid for any leave due but not taken.

If you have an employee on or approaching maternity leave, they are entitled to take their annual leave before or after their maternity leave period. Annual leave is also accrued during maternity leave.

What are employers entitled to?

Employees must give notice when they want to take leave (the default tends to be double the amount of leave taken – ie two weeks notice for one weeks holiday but this can be set and agreed in your own HR processes)

Employers are able to set times when employees must take leave, for example a Christmas shut down in a factory, or nominated days where the place of work must be closed.

You can also give a maximum amount of holiday that can be taken on one occasion, limiting holidays to two weeks for example.

Remember to plan ahead

When setting your HR processes, planning ahead wherever possible avoids unnecessary disruption. Setting minimum notice periods for leave, the maximum amount of time that can be taken, and so on allows you to fit your employee’s leave around the businesses and reduces any negative impact. You also have time to ensure that your business is adequately staffed, as you can monitor which employees may wish to book leave at the same time to eliminate any unhelpful clashes.

Do you need to know more about annual leave for your employees? Contact us today for further advice.

* Legally, employees and workers are different, however both are entitled to annual leave. To find out more about the difference and how it applies to your company, contact us today. In the above fact file we refer to employees, as they are most common.


Employees on Probationary Periods – What are their rights?

It’s often commonplace to have a probationary period for new employees as they join the business. As an employer, it is a useful way to ensure that the employee is right for the role and duties. For the employee, it can be a time to consider whether the role is right for them. However, it does not mean that the employees on probation are without any employment rights.


What are typical probation periods and how should they be used?

This trial period of employment is commonly from three to six months, although they can be as little as one week in short-term contracts. There can also be scope to extend these periods, for example if more training is needed.

Performance reviews at monthly periods throughout this time should be given as they are key to the opportunity for feedback. It gives both the employee and employer an opportunity to discuss any concerns and address them before the employee completes their probation. It really cannot be fair to suddenly decide that an employee is not suitable right at the end of the probation period, having had no discussions with them.

What rights do employees on probation have?

Probationary periods do not have special statutory status. In law, an employee’s length of service determines their statutory rights, not their probationary status. Employees who are on probation enjoy the same statutory employment rights as other staff, such as national minimum wage, statutory sick pay and rights under the working time rules.

Some family-related leave and rights also apply in the same way. Employees on probation are entitled to take time off for antenatal and adoption appointments. A pregnant employee on probation is entitled to maternity leave and may qualify for statutory maternity pay. She cannot be required to wait for her probationary period to end before starting her maternity leave.

Are probationers protected against unlawful discrimination?

Their rights are the same as other employees; therefore they are protected against unlawful discrimination, detrimental treatment for asserting a statutory right and automatically unfair dismissal.

This includes disability discrimination, so any employer with an employee on probation with a disability needs to make reasonable adjustments to allow them to work efficiently and comfortably.

What if you need to dismiss an employee during their probation?

Employees do not need a minimum period of service to claim that their dismissal was for an automatically unfair reason (such as for asserting a statutory right) or that it was based on unlawful discrimination. You need to ensure that, if you are dealing with a disciplinary or performance issue during a probationary period, particularly one that could result in dismissal, you demonstrate that you had genuine reasons and evidence for your actions. Therefore, following a process that includes an investigation and input from the employee is best practice before such cases arise.

What if an employee does not pass probation?

If an employee does not pass, you may have to terminate their contract. Here statutory notice applies as a minimum, but if your employment contract states a longer period you need to comply.

If you need to find out more probationary periods, the rights of employees on probation, or dismissals, contact us today


What do you need to know about agency workers?

If you employ workers from an agency, they are entitled to certain employment rights. Do you know if you are treating your agency workers correctly? What do you need to know about the employment rights of agency workers?

As an employer, you need to be aware of the Agency Worker Regulations. These regulations give agency workers the entitlement to the same or no less favourable treatment as comparable employees with respect to basic employment and working conditions, if and when they complete a qualifying period of 12 weeks in a particular job.

What are Agency Workers?

The regulations that cover agency workers apply to those workers supplied by a temporary work agency to an employer/hirer (ie your business). This includes most agency workers that people refer to as ‘temps’ and those supplied via intermediaries.

Agency workers, in these regulations, are not self-employed, individuals working through their own limited liability company, or individuals working on managed service contracts.

What rights do Agency Workers have when they start employment?

From their first day at work, an agency worker will be entitled to the same access to facilities such as staff canteens, childcare and transport as other employees, and to be informed about job vacancies. They are also entitled to certain employment rights such as national minimum wage.

After the 12-week qualifying period, an agency worker will be entitled to the same basic conditions of employment as if they had been directly employed by you. This includes bonuses, commissions and holiday pay, but does not include redundancy pay, contractual sick pay, and maternity, paternity or adoption pay. They are also entitled to working time rights, such as annual leave.

What other employment rights are Agency Workers entitled to?

  • rest breaks and limits on working time
  • the National Minimum Wage
  • no unlawful deductions from wages
  • discrimination rights under the Equality Act 2010
  • health and safety at work.

If you employ agency workers, or are thinking about employing agency workers and want to know more about the regulations, talk to us today.

Do you have a good policy in place for social media use?

Social media use is increasingly integrated into our lives –and this means that the line between business and personal use are often blurred. You must protect your business by ensuring that you have a sound policy on social media use in place for your employees.

Acas reports it is estimated that “misuse of the internet and social media by workers costs Britain’s economy billions of pounds every year”. You don’t want to risk the profitability, efficiency and reputation of your business by not having a social media policy in place.

What is social media?

Although we’ve all heard of Facebook and Twitter, social media is the term for all online channels where people can interact. These can include image-based smartphone apps such as Instagram or Snapchat, online forums and groups, business-based sites such as LinkedIn, and blogging sites.

This increasing volume of instant, uncontrolled communication can affect relationships between managers, employees and job applicants, as well as how your organisation promotes and controls their reputation.

What needs to be in a social media policy?

Your policy has to set boundaries on behaviour on social media for your managers and employees. You need to include what is and what is not acceptable for general behaviour at work, and how people should consider what they post and how it can affect others in their working environment.

The use of social media and technology in general can also distort what boundaries there are between home and work. Consider the use of the internet, emails, smart phones and social media in both work and home for your employees.

What else do I need to consider?

Recruitment – make managers aware that assessing applicants by looking at their social networking pages can be discriminatory and unfair.

Privacy – make employees aware of privacy and security settings on their social media profile. They need to make considered decisions about who from the work environment can view their personal information

Updating other policies: Social media and technology can have a far reaching influence on many of your other business policies. For example, your policy on bullying should be updated to include references to ‘cyber bullying’.

To find out more about what a social media policy should include, contact us today. You can also follow HR That Helps on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for more advice and support on HR for your business.

Discrimination in your business – How to avoid it

There are many types of discrimination you need to be aware of, and know to prevent, in your company. Whether it is race, gender, age or religion, having the appropriate policies in places will enable you to encourage equality and diversity in the workplace. It will also help you to avoid being accused of discrimination, and any potentially costly outcomes.

How do you prevent discrimination?

Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, recommends three steps to encourage equality and avoid discrimination in your business.

Step One – Be aware of the key areas of work, such as recruitment, where discrimination is more common.

For example, when advertising vacancies, do you state your commitment to equal opportunities and steer clear of references that could be potentially discriminatory, such as ‘mature person’ or the number of years experience an applicant needs to have? You may also want to consider where you place your vacancy – is it reaching a large enough audience through your current methods?

Step Two – Put in place policies to encourage equality and diversity and try to stop discrimination. Encourage your employees to get involved in this, as they have a key part to play in supporting and adhering to the policy.

These HR policies could include:

  • recruitment,
  • pay,
  • terms and conditions,
  • promotions,
  • training,
  • religious practices
  • dress codes.

Setting out the measures you take, as an employer, to ensure that every employee (or potential employee) is treated equally demonstrates your commitment to your staff. Make sure these policies are read and understood by staff so they also understand their role.

Discrimination can occur outside of your control as an employer, between staff members, but having your policies in place shows your commitment to equality and diversity. It also helps employees come to you, and their line managers, if they do feel there are issues within the workplace.

Step Three – Measure your policies and the impact that your actions are having, and implement changes when necessary.

Monitoring the diversity in your workplace, and whether your staff feel they are treated equally, will allow you to know if your policy is working and where changes have to be made.

Do you have any questions about discrimination in your business, and how it can be avoided? Talk to HR That Helps today to find out more about diversity and equality in the workplace.



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

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