Employment Policies - Cornerstone Resources

Pre-employment checks: Are references worth the paper they are written on?

So you’ve offered a job to your preferred candidate and they’ve accepted. The only thing left to do is to complete pre-employment checks. For most organisations, this includes sending out requests for references from your candidate’s previous employers. But are they worth the paper they are written on?

The ‘tombstone’ reference

A ‘tombstone’ reference, or the standard pro-forma response, only provides details of dates of employment and job title at the time of departure. This allows you to verify whether your candidate has told the truth or not on their cv which is only part of what you want when completing pre-employment checks. I recall a story from many years ago about an HR Administrator who had faked his cv, landed a HR Director role and legally made almost all of his team redundant! So there is some merit in validating a cv but it tells you nothing about the performance or character of your employee. This, of course, is exactly the sort of information you really want as an employer.

What should references provide?

The attached article from Anthony Collins Solicitors suggest that in their opinion it should become common practice for employee’s to disclose the reasons for leaving their former employment during the recruitment process. They would then warrant that they were not under investigation for or subject to any disciplinary sanction relation to their conduct at the time of their dismissal (and if they were to provide detail). The employer would then confirm or deny that statement, thus removing the potential risk of claims against them.

What are the benefits of this approach?

Employers who disclose more than just the ‘tombstone’ reference open themselves up to potential claims of victimisation. Qualitative feedback on the individuals performance or any investigation that was launched at the time of the employee’s departure could prejudice the employee’s chance of gaining employment. As an incomplete investigation can not substantiate a claim, the former employee can argue that their previous employer has hindered their chances of gaining future employment. By shifting the onus onto the employee to state that there was no disciplinary action being taken at the time of departure, the risk falls away from the previous employer.

How could this change happen?

It would require sector wide agreements and that will be hard to achieve. Employers would then have to change their referencing practices to make this work.

What should I do for now?

Until this, or some other solution becomes common practice, ensure that all details given are factual and can be substantiated. Also limit the number of people authorised to give references in your organisation to those who know what detail can be safely provided. You can refuse to provide references but if you go down that route, you can expect other organisations to return you the same favour!

If you need advice or guidance on anything you’ve read around pre-employment checks, contact us today on 07908 875146 or by clicking here to email us. You can also see more information on how we can help you with HR Policies by clicking here.




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