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Updates to the ACAS guidance for job references

Almost every job application in the modern world will ask for a reference to accompany an application. It is an important tool to establish whether a candidate is suitable for the role they are applying for. 

However, ACAS frequently receive questions from concerned employers and employees alike, who are unsure about what to include in a reference, or what to do when there is a problem with the reference.

On the back of this, ACAS published their new guidance on 4th September, with new information on what to include and how to resolve issues.

Does an employer have to give a reference?

Unless working in specific industries, such as those regulated by the Financial Services Authority, an employer can choose whether they provide a reference. They can also decide the level of detail the reference contains.

ACAS recommend that employers have a policy on references that they and their employees can refer to, which tells them what kind of information they should provide.

What can a reference include?

It can range from the basic facts like a job title and employment dates, to details about the applicant’s character, abilities, or strengths and weaknesses with regards to the role.

What is important is that the reference is a “true, accurate and fair reflection” of the applicant. This means that where an opinion is offered, it should be back up by facts.

Can an employer give a negative reference?

One of the most frequently asked questions was whether an employer could give a negative reference.

A reference must not include misleading or inaccurate information and should avoid giving opinions that cannot be supported by facts.

This can mean that some references could show that a person is unsuitable for the role they are applying for, or that they have not had enough relevant experience. The reference may also give a different reason for leaving or use a different title for the role the applicant had previously.

ACAS published their new guidance with new information on what to include and how to resolve issues.

Resolving reference problems

If a potential employer has concerns about a reference, or they did not receive one, they should discuss this with the applicant first, and could consider using a probationary period in these circumstances.

Applicants can make a request, usually in writing, for a copy of a reference provided for them. In more serious cases where a reference was inappropriate, the applicant may be able to claim damages if they can show that the information was either misleading or inaccurate and led to a loss, such as the withdrawal of a job offer.

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This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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