Employers should ensure that guidance on employment references is incorporated into their policies and procedures. The following are some general recommendations for employers to follow when providing a reference for an employee:

Do:

  1. Incorporate a written policy into the company’s policies and procedures or employee handbook dealing with employee references. This policy should be clear and consistent for all employees.
  2. Nominate a person within the company to deal with and respond to all reference requests.
  3. Limit references to confirmation of the fact of employment, job title, a brief description of the employee’s duties and the dates of employment.
  4. Follow this up with a confirmation that it is company policy to provide for this factual statement of employment only.
  5. Take steps to ensure that any references given are accurate and based on fact.
  6. Keep a record of the time and date of giving the reference and keep a copy or a note of the reference given on the employee’s personnel file.
  7. Make it clear if the reference is a personal reference. Employees providing a personal reference for a peer or colleague should make it clear to the recipient that he/she is providing the reference in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the company. The company’s reference policy should also clearly provide for this.

Don’t:

  1. Include any sensitive personal data in a reference – for example, information regarding a person’s colour, sexual orientation, criminal record, religion, political opinions, membership of a trade union, or medical information in relation to the employee.
  2. Make statements that you would not be prepared to make in writing, when providing an oral reference. Remember to confirm the identity of the caller to ensure the request is legitimate.
  3. Make statements of opinion in relation to performance or conduct.