A reference is a communication (usually written) from a previous employer providing information on a person’s employment with them. References are usually sought once you have made a verbal offer, ideally prior to the contract being issued and it is advisable to seek to obtain written references, rather than rely on verbal statements given over the telephone. By sending for a written reference you give the referee time to gather the information required and to ensure they have the correct facts before replying.
There is no legal requirement to take up references or indeed to give references, however, obtaining references is still the most commonly used condition of employment in order to ensure the successful candidate is the person they say they are and that they have worked for the organisations they say they have.
As well as having a clear process for taking up references you should also ensure you have a clear policy on giving references – covering who in the organisation is responsible for providing references and on what basis they can be given.
Sending for References
It is important that prospective employees understand that you will be taking up references, have an idea of how long this will take and what the consequences will be if satisfactory references are not obtained.
It is good practice to make a conditional offer, but you need to be aware that some candidates will not resign from their current employer until they know that the conditions have been met. This may delay the agreement of a start date so it is important that your processes enable you to send for the references as quickly as possible and that you keep on top of this, chasing for the references if they have not been returned.
Information Required in References
Reference requests should only ask for information that will help you decide whether or not a candidate is suitable for the role. At the very least you will need the name, address, role, relationship to the applicant (e.g. line manager or educational referee) and ideally the length of time the referee has known the candidate. You may also wish to ask for information on performance levels in different areas, absence history and whether or not the candidate has been subject to disciplinary action.
What if there are discrepancies in the references?
If a reference flags up inconsistencies or discrepancies, do not automatically assume the individual has given incorrect or deliberately misleading information, but follow these steps:
Seek further information from the individual, giving them an opportunity to provide an explanation for any discrepancies.
If a discrepancy is a straightforward and a simple difference of fact, e.g. dates of employment, put this directly to the individual giving them the opportunity to explain. Applicants can make genuine mistakes with dates of employment. It is also possible that the referee has made an error.
Remain open minded when reviewing references and don’t be too quick to pass judgement based on information provided by a third party – explore any issues further before making your decision on the situation and the relevance of the information provided.
Withdrawing an offer
If after considering the information you conclude that the reference is not satisfactory to meet the conditional offer of employment, you can withdraw the offer of employment.
If you withdraw an offer this should be done in a sensitive manner, and initially verbally. Telephone first to explain that a condition of the offer has not been met and that as a consequence the offer is being withdrawn. Then follow up your conversation in writing.
As an employer you can refuse to provide a reference – there is no legal obligation for you to do so. If you do refuse a reference request you must ensure that this is in line with your policy and is consistent with your practice. If you do choose to provide a reference, you must exercise reasonable care to ensure that it is factually true, accurate and fair and does not give a misleading overall impression.
For more information and guidance, contact the team of HR Consultants at aspire cambridge today on 01223 855441.