Posted August 01, 2016 | Career Advice, Recruitment Advice | No Comments »

Yellow Card for Referees!

Receiving bad news is never pleasant, but especially so when it relates to the breaking down of a professional relationship.

So how should bosses act when someone hands their notice in?

It is completely understandable that there will be feelings of disappointment, frustration and in some cases, betrayal. After all of that planning and investment into a person you hope for them to grow within your own company, not with another!

We experienced a case recently where a candidate handed in their notice in and accepted another role, however it did not go as smoothly as one would like.

The offer letter was “subject to suitable references”, as is standard with most recruitment processes. The hiring company quite rightly wanted to sense-check their decision to offer.

The current employer wasn’t quite prepared to play ball, leaving the candidate in a bit of a spot.

The candidate had worked at their current company for more than 2 years had been productive and proficient. They were not moving to a rival company in the same city, in fact they were moving back to their home city having lived away for some years.

Yellow Card for Referees! | Handling References | Enigma People Solutions | Career Advice

by Marty Hadding

So what should be expected of all parties in this situation?

Many employers insist on taking up references, however these days so many employers only give start and finish date to confirm that the person worked for them when they said they did. With no further information, the reference is of limited value.

We even know of some companies that insist on taking up 2 references but refuse to give them for outgoing employees two policies that seem strangely contradictory.

We asked some leading HR professionals what their view on best practice is, as the whole scenario seems a bit disjointed.

Sheila Anderson – Human Resources Consultant/ Executive Coach

Kirklee Human Resources, Penna http://www.penna.com/

In the current economic conditions where many people feel under pressure, providing a full reference with a comment on their suitability for the new role, strengths and weaknesses and employment record for someone who is leaving or left may be low on a company’s priority list for a number of reasons.  HR can only give the facts.  Giving some facts like absence levels and disciplinary record can be risky. Are the records 100% correct, will the individual challenge them, as has happened in the past?  Perhaps the HR department should actually have taken them out of the file by now.   An individual’s strengths and weaknesses may have changed since the last appraisal, assuming there is one in the file, or the manager may have changed and have a different opinion. Thus the current line manager has to provide this element of the reference. 

Individuals should focus on a character reference from their manager and allow the new employer simply to seek confirmation of employment from HR. This does require people to maintain a positive attitude to their manager all the way through their employment as you never know when you will meet again, it’s good practice.

Nick Scott – Human Resources Consultant

Border HR Ltd. http://www.borderhr.com/

Whilst there is no law forcing an employer to give a reference, not giving a reference can be counter productive.  If an employee wants to leave and the only thing keeping them at their desk is being unable to leave due to their employer’s actions it is a guaranteed way to ensure that the frustrated leaver is not going to give their best and will probably be a negative influence.  Even if they do manage to leave without a reference it will soon get back to their now ex-colleagues, who will rightly question the judgement and morals of their employer, again harming engagement and productivity.

So when confronted with a reference request, my advice is to at least give the factual details such as dates of employment and reason for leaving (resignation, redundancy or dismissal).  Ideally, unless it’s a controversial matter, you should say if you’d re-employ them or not and that they were a good productive employee or not.  Try and avoid personal feelings of like or dislike but if they have received a disciplinary warning for misconduct or performance, this is a matter of fact and should be included.

As long as your answers are factual and not malicious you will not find yourself in any trouble and what’s more that employee who left may just happen to return, having gained extra valuable experience and training from another organisation, at some point in the future. 

It’s worth remembering too that you will no doubt wish to take references yourself on any potential new hires!


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