UK law states that an employer must provide a reference for a current or past employee should one be requested if there was a written agreement to do so or the employer operates within a regulated industry.
For those organisations where the above doesn’t apply, as an employer you are not under any obligation to provide a reference unless you want to.
It’s worth noting here that the current or past employee has the right to challenge any reference given that they feel might be unfair or misleading, so it’s important that you tread carefully when providing a reference.
But what information should you provide to make sure you follow references best practice?
Keep it simple
Many employers have adopted a policy of only giving very basic information on previous employees, including role details, employment dates and final salary figures. This is perfectly acceptable but just be aware that if you do choose to give more information its best to keep things brief and stick to the facts, detailing an ex employee’s bad traits can land you in hot water so make sure anything you say is accurate and can be proven.
Stick to the truth
You might be celebrating the fact that a particular employee is moving on, but don’t go building them up to be an ideal employee if they aren’t. Likewise, if you don’t want the employee to leave then giving them a bad reference is just going to come back and bite you and ruin your relationship with the employee who will no doubt leave anyway.
Provide it in writing
Giving a reference in writing is the only way to prove exactly what was discussed should problems occur later on down the line. Giving a reference over the phone can often lead you to divulge information you may not be 100% confident in discussing or to you giving the wrong impression of an employee should a question be framed in a particular way.
Safeguard yourself from these pitfalls by providing all references in writing so you have a document you can refer to if needed.
This is by no means an extensive list of things you need to be aware of when providing employee references. However, it’s a good starting point to make sure employers are mindful of best practice.