“The new employer of one of my former staff has asked me for a reference. Am I obliged to provide one?”
There is no general legal duty to provide a reference and there are various risks and hazards to the business if you do.
The very decision to give or refuse a reference can give rise to an action in discrimination law whether or not is has a bearing upon your former employees next career steps. Beyond this the content of the reference can also cause legal problems.
We often advise clients to either maintain a blanket “no references” given policy or to limit references given to a short confirmation of the key dates of employment.
If you are sent a reference questionnaire seeking more information than you have decided to give by policy, then simply return the form with a polite refusal – but make sure you do that consistently with all cases.
As an employer you should also beware of “informal references” or “character references” that are sometimes sought from managers in the business. These can not only be attributed as an act of the employer, but are often the worst ones in terms of unprovable allegations and potential discrimination. If you do decide to issue references make it clear to all your staff, who in the business gives them so that the company standard reference can be given and good records kept.”