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HR FAQ – Do I have to give a reference?

I find this question can cause quite a dilemma.  As an ex-employer, are you obliged to give a reference for a previous employee?

The short answer is no.  As in, there is no legal obligation to provide a reference.  However, anything you do say in a reference must be factually correct.

It’s no wonder so many employers are firmly sticking to factual references, i.e. “I can confirm that this person was employed by my firm in the capacity of [job title] from this date to that date”.  It’s factually correct and presumably, it confirms what the ex-employee has already stated in his or her CV. If it doesn’t, then there are questions to be asked which is why you should always make an offer conditional on receiving satisfactory references.

I can understand why people are reluctant to comment any further or give any information that could be construed as a character reference.  After all, it needs to be factually correct and what happens if your comments are challenged or you haven’t got your facts right about sickness absence or punctuality?  It seems safer to stick to confirming the basics and keep your opinions to yourself.  If you can’t say something nice, it’s best to say nothing at all.

Having said that, this really only applies if you have something to say that might be considered detrimental to the employee’s chances of getting another job.  If you have only positive things to say, why wouldn’t you say them?  There’s nothing quite like the little glow that comes from checking a person’s references and reading nice things their previous employer says about them.  It’s validation that you’ve made the right choice and who doesn’t want to feel comforted that they’ve made a good decision?  So go ahead, spread the reference love; just make sure you can prove what you say is true.

For help with drawing up references or anything else to do with managing people in your business, get in touch on 01487 815720.

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