It is common-place to be asked to provide references when applying for new job, but is there a legal requirement to give one? Unless regulated by an institution such as the Financial Conduct Authority, an employer is under no legal obligation to give a reference. References can also be given by work colleagues or even an old teacher; any individual who can provide personal information relevant to the job being applied for can be considered an appropriate reference.

Whilst there is no legal obligation to provide a reference, there are some guidelines you must follow if you do decide to give one. If you are an employee that has been asked to give a reference for a colleague, it is likely that your company will have a policy stating what information can be provided. In general, a reference must be accurate, fair and true. References can include basic facts such as employment dates and job descriptions; skills of the applicant; strengths and weaknesses of the applicant specific to the role in question; and any specific questions the potential employer may want to raise – for example, days of absence.

With this taken into account, can a ‘bad’ reference be given? As long as the reference is accurate, fair and truthful, based on supporting evidence and avoids subjective comments then it can be given, whether it helps or hinders the application. If it is factually correct that an applicant may not be suitable for the job in question, this can be fairly reflected in the given reference.

ACAS has just released new guidance on employment references. If you would like further information, speak to our employment law specialist Jane Elgar at either our Benfleet or Billericay office.