HR & Employment Law Insights

Helping family businesses, start-ups, charities, social enterprises, and other growing or established businesses throughout the UK make sense of HR and Employment Law challenges.

We get asked HR related questions every day and each week we will be sharing our top question of the week that we have been asked here at The HR Booth.

This week Alistair answers the question " I have been asked to give a reference for a former employee, what can I write in the reference?"

Question

I have been asked to give a reference for a former employee, what can I write in the reference?

Answer

When giving a reference most employers will give you a reference template to fill in and most of the time the questions asked will be around the employee’s ability, conduct, timekeeping and attendance.  When giving your comments on these remember not to give your personal opinion i.e if the former employee has been off for 5 days in the last 3 months do not write that their attendance is poor as the new employer may not necessarily think that is poor.  Simply just write the employee has been off for 5 days in the last 3 months as this information is factual and not based on opinion.

If an employee's performance has been poor or they were dismissed for serious misconduct, refer specifically to the problems experienced with the employee (as well as any positive points, in the interest of balance). A bad reference is permissible, provided that it is not malicious and that you took reasonable care to ensure that the information is true – for example, by investigating any matter giving rise to the bad reference.

If an employee has been dismissed, ensure that the statements made in the reference tally with the reasons given for the dismissal.

I would also err on the side of caution and confirm only factual information.  You may be asked to give an opinion on someone’s ability to do a role that you’re not familiar with, therefore you shouldn’t attempt to answer that.

If you’re asked whether you would re-employ, if you are saying no then you should give a reason as to why, for example it may not be company policy to re-employ ex-employees.

You don’t have to complete the template the employer sent to you and you can use your own if you wish.