The CIPD recommends that references should always be taken up but only factual or verifiable data should be relied upon. Questions surrounding whether the previous employer thinks the candidate will do well in their new role can only ever be subjective as new relationships, systems and processes may produce different responses. The position is slightly different for young people applying for their first job. In these instances a reference from their last place of education and a character reference should be requested. References are usually taken up after an initial offer has been made. They can be taken up at he time of application but this could be awkward for applicants whose current employer is approached, especially as they may not yet have informed their employer of their intention to leave. It is also advisable to review qualifications.

A standard reference request – covering at least the last five years, ten in high-risk areas such as finance – should enable the previous employer to supply accurate information. Article 92 gives a template.

Duty of care

Court cases have proved that the former (or existing) employer has a duty of care towards:

• the inquiring employer, who may rely on the reference in selecting the employee

• the (ex) employee – there is an implied duty of care in preparing/ composing the reference.

Both employees and new employers may suffer damage or loss from an inaccurate reference and there are cases where each has won damages as a result of an ex-employer’s negligence. As a result many organisations limit their references to confirmation of the dates the employee worked for them.

If you are hiring a lot of staff, requesting references is an activity that can be outsourced to a specialist agency. Once satisfactory references are received you can issue a formal offer, if you have not already done so, followed by the statement of particulars/ contract of employment.