The government is considering changing the rules on work references to force employers to provide a basic reference for former employees
Under the proposals, employers would be stopped from withholding references to any employee and, for the first time, would be required to provide at least a basic reference for any former employee.
The suggestion is part of a wider package of reforms announced in July, which included plans for a curb on the misuse of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and workplace discrimination.
The government said the latest move on references would ‘crack down on rogue employers using references as a bargaining chip and are designed to protect workers from threats or intimidation’.
Business secretary Andrea Leadsom said: ‘The overwhelming majority of businesses comply with the law, treating their employees with respect and fairness. But we cannot tolerate the small minority that use nasty tactics like non-disclosure agreements and withholding references to pressure employees into silence, often in cases of serious wrongdoing.
‘These proposals ensure individuals are protected, striking a fair balance between the interests of employers and workers.’
Commenting on the proposals, Paul Holcroft, associate director of Croner, warned: ‘Employers are already cautious when it comes to writing references for former employees and, because of this, tend to confirm only the role that the individual was employed in and the start and end date of employment without giving any details on their performance.
‘The fear is that any wider information they give may be construed as unfair or misleading and result in legal action from the ex-employee. Some employers may steer clear of responding to a reference request altogether, and this is perfectly legal except where there has a written agreement to provide one, or where the specific industry requires it.
‘Forcing employers to provide a reference is only likely to increase the current fear. Without any guidance on what is or is not acceptable to include in the reference, will result in more references stating the briefest of facts and will give a prospective employer no useful information on their applicant.’
The announcement was made earlier this week, but will not progress until a new parliament is in place. Parliament will be dissolved on 5 November with a general election slated for 12 December.
Related article: Crackdown on abuse of non-disclosure agreements