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Issuing references on your employees

Date Published: May 03, 2017 | Last Updated: January 06, 2024 | By swoodrough

The process of issuing employment references typically sits in the ‘low effort, low value’ quadrant of the value to effort matrix. Providing these references for either job or mortgage applications is a straightforward administrative task which nonetheless has the capacity to consume a huge about of HR time and resource. Seemingly ever increasing in volume, the majority of employers find themselves processing a significant amount of reference-related administration on a daily basis. Many larger organisations have established a dedicated ‘Reference Response’ function within their HR team, representing a sizeable headcount investment. In smaller organisations, responsibility will typically sit with the HR generalist role and may be an unwelcome and time-consuming distraction from other key duties. The solution? Effective delegation.

Employee rights and compliance

Guidance issued by both ACAS and the Information Commissioner’s Office emphasises the importance of exercising due care and attention when issuing employment referencing, ensuring employee rights and personal data are safeguarded. Section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 also entitles employees to request a copy of any references provided. This is particularly significant when you consider that former employees may be able to claim damages in court, if information provided in an employment reference is proven to have been misleading or inaccurate and to have resulted in them suffering a loss such as the withdrawal of a job offer. With this in mind, many employers have opted to formalise their approach to issuing employments references, typically limiting content to factual details only such as dates of employment and job title.

Providing a quick turnaround

Where references are being requested for pre-employment screening purposes, most prospective employers will wait until the referencing process has been completed, before confirming a start date and permitting the future employee on site. Similarly with mortgage or tenancy applications, delays can cause unnecessary distress to the employee. This leads to a degree of pressure being applied to former employers, who find themselves asked to provide a quick turn around on their reference responses.

Effective delegation through outsourcing

Increased reference request volumes combined with increasing pressure to respond promptly has left many employers struggling to devote adequate time and resource to the process, or incurring increased overheads as a result of meeting the increased demand. With employment screening already well established as a core outsourced HR function, the next logical step is for HR to outsource the ‘flip-side’ – the process of providing references on their own employees. By outsourcing the end-to-end referencing process, your prospective employees will benefit from a better onboarding experience, your exiting employees will make a smooth transition into their new role, and your HR team will be freed up to focus on services which represent a greater ‘value add’ to your business.