John Mehtam is the employment law specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, and he said a reference request was most likely to be for a new employer or maybe a financial situation like a mortgage application.
“It’s important to be aware of the differences though between a corporate reference and a personal one. Your business will be legally responsible for the contents of a corporate reference because it is provided on its behalf.
“So you must ensure you have a clear policy on which employees or levels of management can give a corporate reference, whether it should be verbal or written, and what should be included.”
John said a personal reference may refer to work undertaken for the business but must not be given on behalf of the business.
“There’s always a danger that a personal reference could be taken to be a corporate reference, so make sure it’s not provided on headed paper and does not include the referee’s job title.”
John added that there was no legal obligation on a business to provide a reference and so the business was entitled to refuse to provide one.
“But your company policy on references must be consistent or you could be accused of discrimination. Your business is not allowed to discriminate on the basis of age, disability, gender, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
“So having a clear policy in place about the circumstances in which references will be given will help in defending any allegations of discriminatory treatment. If you do agree to give a reference, the business must be able to justify and support any comments made and show that it honestly holds the views that are stated.
“Your business cannot be successfully sued for defamation for the contents of a reference (even if they are untrue), as long as your business believed the information in the reference was correct at the time it was provided, and that you gave the reference without malice.
“But your business could be sued for breach of contract if you don not give a reference when your business had previously agreed to provide one.”