New ACAS guidance on employee references

16 October 2018

ACAS has published new guidance dealing with the giving of references.

Although there is usually no legal requirement to provide a reference, employers must deal with reference requests consistently. This minimises the risk of complaints from employees, especially those who say they have been treated differently because of a protected characteristic (such as their gender, race or disability).

Factual references have become increasingly common. This approach is fine provided employers deal with requests consistently. The guidance recommends that employers have a policy to help managers handle reference requests. The guidance also covers what references can include, confirming that they must be true, accurate and fair, and based on facts. Subjective opinions should be avoided. The guidance also looks at the potential circumstances in which it might be fair to give a 'bad' reference. For example, a true and accurate reference might show that the job applicant is not suitable for a particular role.

The guidance confirms that employees can seek damages for an inappropriate reference only if they can show that the information was inaccurate or misleading (and they have suffered some loss, by not securing the job). Employers should stick to the facts and provide honest information.

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