Job offers are often made subject to satisfactory references being obtained from previous employers. But do you have to request references and should you?
Firstly, there is no guarantee that you will obtain a reference as a previous employer does not have to give a reference by law unless they are in certain financial services jobs which are regulated.
Secondly, if a previous employer gives a reference, it must be accurate and fair. A lot of references now will just give a summary including job title and dates of employment. Some companies ask for more details (related to suitability, absences etc) but even then, there is no obligation on the employer to provide more information and a lot will now only provide minimal information, such as dates of employment.
Many employers are frightened to provide any more information as references must be accurate, fair and not misleading, inaccurate and discriminatory. An individual can challenge a reference if they feel it isn’t accurate and can make a tribunal claim or a county court claim. In Mefful v Citizens Advice Merton and Lambeth Limited a tribunal found that Mr Mefful had been discriminated against after his ex-employer made comments linked to his sickness absence in a reference. The reference had stated the former employer would not re-employ Mr Mefful. The tribunal found the records on absences were overestimated to a ‘substantial degree’ and therefore his potential employer had been provided with inaccurate figures and did not comment on or about his performance.
You could go to a lot of effort in obtaining, sending letters, making phonecalls and chasing references, but is it worthwhile?
It can be worthwhile to confirm that a prospective employee has been employed where they say they have, but with most companies offering a probationary period and also little risk (with the exception of discrimination) of terminating with less than 2 years’ service it probably isn’t going to make a huge difference. Unless of course you must request references if you are in a regulated industry. So, no it is not an essential must do and, in any case, if you did get a reference that did comment on suitability in some ways it could be fairer to discuss with the prospective employee and give them a chance to prove themselves. As I say, even if issues do arise it shouldn’t be complex to deal with these. You need to weigh up the time and effort it takes against the value of the information you will be receiving and if it isn’t adding any value -don’t do it!