As an employer, you’ll be used to requests to provide employment references, either from ex-employees or from the HR department of other businesses. You’ll be well aware that whatever you write is bound by the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1988. You’ll also be used to receiving references relating to new or prospective employees and understand that the way you keep such information is covered by the DPA. However, you may not be aware that employees have certain rights under the DPA to access references which, in some circumstances, may seem at odds with normal practice.Let’s look first at reference requests from someone who is no longer employed by you. That person has the right to request any personal data which you may hold, so it’s important that all personal data is accurate. However, the DPA has an exemption which states that you do not have to give the ex-employee a reference if it concerns their education, training or employment when such information was originally given in confidence. Even so, you may decide to provide a factual copy of the reference and that is acceptable. This exemption means that there is no obligation of the part of an ex-employee to give a new employer a copy of the original reference. Conversely, it also means that you cannot ask a prospective employee to give you a copy of a reference about their education, training or employment which had originally been written in confidence.Let’s now consider what happens when you have a new employee. You will have received references about that person which will be filed according to the rules and regulations of the DPA. Your new employee has the right to see any references about them which contain information which they already know, such as the dates of their employment and their absence record. But what happens when you are not certain whether information in a reference is already known to your new employee. For example, this could relate to their performance which may or may not have been discussed at an appraisal. In such cases where there is some doubt, you should contact the ex-employer and ask if they object to the information being disclosed. If they do object, then it is important to find out the reasons for the objection. Despite the objection, in most cases you will be expected to release the reference unless there is a strong reason against this. For example, removing the name and address of the person who wrote the original reference could be possible especially if there was a realistic threat of violence towards that person. In such circumstances you could withhold the reference altogether.Such decisions come down to what is ‘reasonable’ in the given circumstances. You have to weigh up the ex-employer’s request for confidentiality with the employee’s need to see the information about them. All references must be truthful and accurate, so it is equally important to assess how the employee making the request to see a reference would be affected by the information it contains, especially if they are applying for a new job.There may be occasions when it is not possible to obtain the ex-employer’s consent. In such cases, it would be reasonable to provide an overview of the information held in the reference and remove any information relating to other people.
Excellent References are Important In these tough economic times, employers are seeking ways to cut their risks. Right now as a job applicant you represent a potential risk to them. They could hire you and spend time and money training you only to find out that you are either unable to do the job well or have a fatal character flaw that interferes with your job performance. An employer needs to know that you are who you say you are. An effective way to accomplish that is through utilizing your references.Consider this: You are one of two hundred people that are applying to an employer with one job opening. The employer has specified exactly the skills, experience, and education that they are looking for. They do not have time to interview all two hundred people, so they start to review who meets all the requirements needed to perform the job.Out of two hundred people, twenty of those people meet all the employers’ requirements of skill, experience, and education. Because you filled out your application well and submitted a resume targeting how you meet the specific skills and experience requirements of the job, you are one of the twenty in the pool of candidates being considered. You have the same types of skills, experience, and education as the other 19 candidates.Now that the employer has narrowed down the pool to 20 people, they start the interview process. You interview well, have sent a thank you note for the interview, and have been asked to return for a second interview. The employer has narrowed the pool of candidates down to 4 people; 3 other people are coming in for a second interview as well. What is going to set you apart from the other 3 people?The answer is your excellent references! So choose well who you use for a reference; that person can make or break your job search efforts! For more information on resume references, check out my website listed below!