Recruitment: Employment References Facts

Employment references are one of the most important aspects of the pre-employment checks that you must carry out for every potential staff member as part of your recruitment process. Regulation 19 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 clearly states that providers must only employ 'fit and proper' staff who are able to provide care and treatment appropriate to their role and requires them to operate robust recruitment procedures, including undertaking any relevant checks to ensure this.

Of course, as well as requesting references, your responsibilities may also include providing them on behalf of staff who have worked for you. For many managers, this remains an area of uncertainty, particularly around how much detail can be provided and whether it’s permissible to give a ‘bad’ reference.

However, ACAS has now produced specific guidance on employment references to help clarify some of the issues that managers frequently raise. The guide aims to help both those applying for and providing references and helps to dispel some of the common misunderstandings about these essential checks.

Read on to learn more about this new ACAS guidance and how it can help you take a more effective approach to employment references.


References are a frequent topic for discussion amongst care home managers, with questions being asked about what should be included, whether or not they’re compelled to provide one and what steps should be taken if a poor reference is received. Even in cases when an employee has a poor disciplinary history, some managers worry about whether they can mention this, for fear of legal repercussions. Thankfully, with the help of ACAS, we can answer these questions below.

4 Common Questions about Employment References

  1. Do I have to provide a reference? In theory, no, you cannot be compelled to provide a reference as the only industries in which references are required by law are those regulated by the Financial Standards Authority. However, your company policy may require that a reference of some type is given if requested so you should always check this before declining. 
  2. What should I include in a reference? Most reference request forms ask a range of questions which include factual data, such as dates of employment, as well as subjective information about character or performance. ACAS recommends that a reference ‘must be a true, accurate and fair reflection of the job applicant’ and that ‘when opinions are provided, they should be based on facts’. This means that any information you include should be justifiable, perhaps by reference to appraisals, sickness records or other information that you hold on the person’s personnel file.
  3. Can I give a bad reference? If there have been elements of poor performance during a person’s employment, e.g. current disciplinary warnings, poor attendance or persistent lateness, then you can share this information if requested as long as you have the records to prove it. However, subjective comments, such as stating that a person is ‘lazy’, ‘unreliable’ or ‘difficult’ are not acceptable.
  4. Can I withdraw a job offer based on a poor reference? This will depend entirely on whether your original offer was conditional or unconditional. A conditional offer is made on the expectation that the applicant will meet pre-agreed conditions, such as receipt of satisfactory references, and can be withdrawn if these are not supplied. However, in the case of an unconditional offer, the employment must go ahead, even if the references are poor. For this reason, we recommend that you always make offer employment offers on a conditional basis.

For more on best practice in care service recruitment and retention, take a look at Care Quality Matters: actionable tips and essential resources for Registered Managers.

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