Job Reference

  • End of Employment
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

In this guide, we'll discuss the different types of job references, what the law says, and how to write a reference letter.

Losing an employee isn’t easy, but it's important to maintain a healthy rapport with them. Providing them with a good job reference is one way to achieve this.

You must consider your legal duty when writing a job reference. Otherwise, you may be at risk of supplying a misleading reference. This could result in claims to an employment tribunal, legal costs, and reputational damage to your company.

In this guide, we'll discuss job references and the law, the different types, as well as how to write a job reference letter.

What is a job reference?

A job reference is a letter that validates an individual's work experience, qualifications and skills. When accepting a new job offer, staff will typically ask their previous employer to provide one. But, depending on the type of reference - they could also ask former tutors, friends, or family.

Prospective employers will usually request work references during the job offer stage. Staff will likely have already offered their referee's contact details during the job application process. Referees might include the employee's former manager.

What are the different types of job references?

There are several different types of job references a new employer might request from a referee. Ensure you understand them all so you know which type to provide.

Different types of references include:

Factual references

A factual reference (also known as a basic reference) does exactly that - it provides basic, factual information about a person's employment. They are usually used to confirm an employee held a certain position. This information usually includes:

  • What the employee’s job title was.
  • How long they worked at a company (or ‘service years’).
  • A brief job description.

This is a common type of reference for many employers. It’s advisable to provide this type of reference, because it's simpler to write and allows them to remain objective (even if they have a negative perception of their employee).

Professional references

A professional reference is someone who can verify an employee's skills, experience and performance within a professional setting (e.g. a manager).

The reference letter itself might include a description of the employee's role, how long they were employed, as well as their good qualities and any challenges they experience.

Character references

A character reference (also known as a detailed reference or personal reference) is a person who provides detailed information about an individual's character. The referee is usually a person who knows them from a non-working environment. They might be a family member, friend, or even neighbour.

The reference will talk about the personality of the person in question. For example, it might mention their positive qualities, such as if they work well in a team, or if they are a good leader. Whatever a character reference mentions will help set the applicant apart from other candidates.

Academic references

Academic references are when staff from a person's education history confirms their academic qualifications. For example, academic referees might include a former tutor, lecturer, or supervisor.

They'll typically speak on a person's quality of work, module grades and ability to meet deadlines. But these types of references won't be something you require unless you work in certain industries (e.g. law or the financial sector).

Is a job reference a legal requirement?

No, a job reference is not a legal requirement. But you might be legally obliged to write one, if you have specified that you will supply one in your employment contracts.

Many employers use reference checks as part of the job application process. So be prepared to receive requests from staff asking you to provide one.

Is it unlawful to give a bad reference to an employee?

No, it is not unlawful to give a bad reference to an employee when they apply for a new role. But if you provide a misleading or inaccurate reference, it could lead to claims being raised against you in an employment tribunal.

So ensure you verify the facts and are accurate about their experience within your company.

How to write a detailed job reference

To ensure you write a job reference that is fair, accurate and honest, you should prepare accordingly. This means following several steps to guarantee a fair assessment of your former employee.

These steps are:

Create an employment reference policy

The first step employers should take involves creating an employment reference policy. A job reference policy details how your reference process works. It might say who will provide references; how the prospective employer can request one; and what information you decide to include (or don't).

This step helps ensure you follow a fair process when it comes to providing a work reference. Make sure you include your policy in your company handbook.

Consult their manager

You should consult your employee's manager when writing professional references. For example, their previous line manager, or their direct reports.

This will give you an idea of how your employee works with others, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Both of which are relevant to share with their prospective employer.

Focus on the employee’s qualities

The body of the reference letter should solely focus on the employee’s qualities. Most references will include things like:

  • Workplace skills.
  • Jobs and responsibilities at work.
  • Relevant work history.
  • Achievements.
  • Work ethic, attitude, and behaviour.

Explain why you’d recommend the employee for the role. And what positive qualities they’ll bring to a future employer. Ensure you provide information that can be evidenced if required.

Get expert advice on job references from Peninsula

It's your legal duty to ensure you write honest, fair and factual job references. This means focusing on your employee's professional skills, career history, and qualifications.

Failure to provide fair reference letters might result in an employee raising tribunal or civil claims against you. This could have severe consequences on your business, such as legal costs and reputational damage.

Peninsula offers expert advice on your job references. Read our guide where we'll discuss job references and the law, the different types, as well as how to write a job reference letter.


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