One of the most common myths around references is that it’s illegal for an employer to give you a bad one. This isn’t actually true, and with more employers checking carefully into the backgrounds of the people they employ, it’s important to know the position around giving and receiving references, and why employers might want to check.
The Legal Position With References
The “no such thing as a bad reference” myth stems from the fact that a reference has to be factually accurate and not opinion, as this leaves it open to legal challenge. Nobody’s going to sue if they get a glowing reference which talks up their achievements. However, if a former manager writes that someone was a nightmare to work with, had a bad attitude and was downright lazy, you can see why the person concerned might be interested in challenging that. So many companies limit themselves to giving “basic” references, just stating the dates of employment and the position held. Negative factual information is sometimes included too, such as stating someone was sacked for poor timekeeping. The position is different in health and social care roles, where employers have an obligation to comment on the character of the person too.
So Why Bother With References?
If all employers are getting from a reference is a confirmation that you worked there, the dates of employment and the position held, you’d be forgiven for wondering why they bother. From an employer’s point of view however, there are lots of reasons to check references. If an applicant has stretched their dates of employment, are they perhaps trying to cover up a gap in employment for some reason? Similarly, if you are recruiting an employee based on their previous experience in a management position or a technical role, you might want to confirm that they have indeed been employed in that role for the stated period. It’s all about lessening the risk to the business of taking on someone who is wholly unsuited for the row or inexperienced for it, and who costs the business in terms of both lost profit and recruiting a replacement.
If you’re approached to give a reference or a previous colleague or employee, then you need to be aware of the laws too. If you work for a large employer, speak to your HR department as they may well have a standard form to complete, or may even do the job themselves. If you are allowed to give a personal reference, remember that in the worst-case scenario that you might have to appear in court to justify your comments. If you do want to give someone a reference saying someone was sacked or is claiming to have had responsibilities which they didn’t, then make sure you have the evidence to back that up.
Applicants for jobs may not have as much flexibility as previously in choosing who they think will give them a glowing reference. New employers will want details of your most recent employers only, or college tutors if you’ve just left school or education.