Employment references – guidance for schools

Employment references provide important information to school leaders, assisting them in determining whether a job applicant is suitable.

Given the ongoing recruitment and retention challenges across the education sector, getting to grips with employment references and your responsibilities could not be more important.

Your obligations

Schools are not legally obliged to provide a reference to existing or former employees, as this only applies to industries regulated by the Financial Services Authority.

Nonetheless, it is custom and practice in education to provide references for employees, and refusal to give a reference could inaccurately suggest that an employee is unsuitable and give rise to several issues, including:

  • Discrimination: failure to provide a reference because of one of the protected characteristics will entitle an employee or ex-employee to bring a claim for discrimination.
  • A claim for breach of contract: for example, where it is custom and practice to provide a reference, it may become an implied contractual term that one will be provided for employees.
  • A breach of the implied term of trust and confidence: if an employer refuses to provide a reference for an employee.
  • Victimisation: where the subject has previously brought discrimination proceedings against the employer, given evidence in connection with such proceedings, made an allegation of unlawful discrimination or done anything else under, or by reference, to the discrimination legislation.

Bad employment references

References should be accurate, fair, and avoid making subject comments that are not supported by facts; they should not be misleading or contain inaccurate information.

Despite this, references might show that a job applicant is not suitable for the role they are applying for. If this is the case, you are entitled to challenge claims made by the applicant.

For example, you might question:

  • How the applicant describes their current job
  • The reason that the applicant has given for leaving their current job
  • The applicant’s experience of relevant responsibilities

Getting consent

In accordance with the Data Protection Bill 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), it is best practice to have consent from a data subject before providing a reference about them.

You can do this through exit interviews, application forms, or by contacting the employee directly.

Applicants need to be made aware of their right to withdraw consent and should be offered easy ways to do so at any time.

EPM can help

As an EPM customer, we will proactively provide you with advice on legislative changes through our email advice notes, so you can be sure that you are on top of all your legal obligations.

Your named HR Adviser can also answer any questions that you might have in relation to the above that are specific to your school, academy or trust. We will also provide you with a range of model reference forms, invites and offer letters, including:

  • EPM Model Reference Request Form Support September 2018
  • EPM Model Reference Request Form Teacher September 2018
  • EPM Model Invitation to Interview Letter and Checklist September 2018
  • EPM Model Offer of Employment Letter September 2018

If you have any questions or want to learn more about our Human Resources service offering, email epm@epm.co.uk or call 01480 431993.

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