Getting it right when using references
References can be a useful recruitment tool for employers, enabling them not only to confirm vital aspects of a candidate's employment history, skills and abilities, but also to gain insight into how well he or she performs in different workplaces.
However, employers need to take care when asking for and appraising references if they are to avoid unnecessary complications later on. For example, they shouldn't approach a current employer without the candidate's express permission. It's also good practice to send a job description out with a reference request listing relevant questions to make the referee's task easier - and to ensure the right information is given.
It's best not to make job offers 'subject to receipt of satisfactory references'. There's no legal requirement for referees to supply one - and it wouldn't be fair for the applicant to be penalised for their referee's omission. An initial probationary period might be a reasonable way of proceeding if a reference isn't supplied.
If a reference contains false or malicious information that leads to a withdrawal of an offer, the applicant could take legal action. The applicant may ask to see a reference about them - and generally speaking, if the reference deals with information already known to them, it should be given to them. More details on how to approach confidentiality issues with References and checking is given in the Acas Advisory booklet - Recruitment.
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