Pre-Employment Checks – References
As we all know, recruitment is an inexact science and pre-employment checks such as securing valid and recent references gives us important information that helps us to decide if a candidate is suitable for a particular role.
Over the years I have taken references on behalf of literally thousands of employers and prospective employees in a wide range of non equestrian blue chip organisations from junior to senior sales, marketing and management posts and in the equestrian environment as part of delivering bespoke recruitment services. This has lead me to have filled many temporary, permanent and freelance/contractor positions and via the same established processes with careful due diligence, I have also diverted my clients away from certain disaster on more than one occasion!
Interestingly these days many grooms, having known me through their careers, give me as a reference to their ‘journey.’ Similarly, and not infrequently, employers will ask me for information about a particular prospective employee and of course, where I can fairly and legally comment, I do.
Over the years, more especially in the equestrian recruitment environment, I have been struck by how many employers who recruit for themselves or via other routes don’t seem to bother taking up references, opting instead to completely ignore these critical pre-employment checks just hoping for the best; many seem to live to regret this omission sooner or later.
Reference checking done properly is time-consuming but with experience, it becomes a straightforward process, but it pays to consider there might be some tricky scenarios, which hopefully you won’t encounter!
- On more than one occasion, I have taken references on behalf of clients where, on further questioning, the person giving the reference turned out to be talking about another person entirely! Had I taken the reference at face value and not ascertained ‘mistaken identity’ via advanced questioning techniques, on most occasions my client would have most certainly have missed out on a good candidate and the candidates themselves would have been left non-plussed.
- I have even had referees trying to put me off prospective employees so they could keep them or re-recruit them.
- I once had a candidate who set up an elaborate and bizarre web of contacts where she was pretending to be her own referees – all 3 of them with different names/addresses/telephone numbers and accents. (Yes, REALLY!) I learned soon afterwards that this one actually ended up in prison.
No wonder some employers don’t bother BUT really, you can’t afford not to. If done in the right way, most times it is pretty straightforward, and a reliable reference can be invaluable!
Taking references the right way
Taking references requires knowledge of the process from a legal standpoint, plus keen email/telephony skills, questioning and listening ability, analytical skills all of which can be acquired with some technical guidance and a little experience. If you feel you might be lacking in this department currently, I am always happy to discuss and have trained people to interview both inside and outside the horse world, so I have some useful pointers! Do contact me at any time here.
Now let’s consider some facts:
- In the equestrian industry, there is usually no legal obligation for employers to provide a reference for a current or past employee, (certain industries such as those regulated by the Financial Services Authority are required to give a reference by law).
- A referee can choose if they want to provide a reference or not and just how much information they want to provide.
- Employers who give references must ensure they are fair and accurate. When opinions are provided, they should be based on, and backed up by facts.
- Employers who ask for references must handle them fairly and consistently.
- Previous employers may choose to provide a few basic facts about the candidate and nothing more.
- References must not include misleading or inaccurate information. They should avoid giving subjective opinions or comments that are not supported by facts.
- Potential employers should remember a referee may not provide a reference or might inaccurately suggest the applicant is unsuitable. In these circumstances, it may help to discuss any concerns with the candidate directly if you feel there is nothing that would majorly worry you, but you need expansion on the matter. An employer might consider offering a job role on a probationary period if there is doubt. The nature of this offer should be made clear in writing, for the avoidance of doubt, when the agreed time period comes to an end.
- Employers who are unable to obtain a reference from the candidate’s nominated referee should inform the candidate and consider whether other suitable references can be obtained. Again, hiring the candidate on a probationary period to assess their suitability could be an option. The nature of this offer should be made clear in writing for the avoidance of doubt when the agreed time period comes to an end.
Other reference sources:
- A candidate’s previous managers and colleagues may also be happy to provide more detailed references. Previous managers and colleagues might also be asked to provide character details, especially with a prospective employee with limited work experience. Personal references can sometimes be provided from individuals who know the candidate such as a teacher, livery yard owner, a previous employers vet etc.
- Some prospective employers look at a candidate’s social media profiles to see how they present themselves to the outside world and how they might fit the job. However, employers should take care, as there can be serious pitfalls. This could be viewed as unfair and potentially discriminatory. Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), using information from a candidate’s social media profile without their permission in the recruitment process could breach GDPR rules. The GDPR principle is that an employer being able to see a candidate’s social media profile does not mean it has the candidate’s consent to take it into account. Risks of discrimination The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. These grounds are called “protected characteristics”. Employers could face an employment tribunal hearing if they refuse to interview or offer a job to someone based on a judgement they made through looking at the candidate’s social media profile, if this is linked to a protected characteristic.
When are employment references needed?
- References can be requested at any stage of the recruitment process.
- Employers must have the candidate’s permission to seek a reference from the candidate’s current employer. I would like to add a word of advice here. In the past, I had numerous experiences of forwarding a candidate to a prospective employer only for the employer to think it’s OK to have a ‘dig around’ upfront to find out more about the candidate. Although well-intentioned, PLEASE be very careful…this could land you in very hot water, and can have life-altering legal and personal ramifications, so it is to be avoided at all costs. I always warn my clients against it at every stage. Be patient, if you follow a due process, 99.9% of times if anything needs to come out in the wash, it will.
What can an employment reference include?
References can include:
- Basic facts about the candidate, like employment start and end dates, job roles and job descriptions.
- Answers to questions that the potential employer has specifically asked about the candidate that are not usually given as basic facts, like absence levels and confirming the reason for leaving.
- Details about the candidate’s skills and abilities.
- Details about the candidate’s character, strengths and weaknesses relating to the suitability for the role they have applied for.
- References mustn’t include irrelevant personal information.
References and job offers
There are two types of job offer that can be made to successful candidates:
- A conditional job offer. This can be withdrawn if the applicant doesn’t meet the employer’s condition, for example, satisfactory references.
- An unconditional job offer. Once an unconditional offer is made this cannot be withdrawn and if accepted a contract is formed.
In the event of a problem with a reference
- In the event that a candidate is unhappy with a reference provided about them, they can request, usually in writing, a copy of any reference given to a new employer. The request would be made to the author of the reference, not the prospective employer.
For further information go to GDPR – The General Data Protection Regulation
- If a candidate believes a reference was inappropriate they may be able to claim damages in a court, but the candidate must be able to show that the information was misleading or inaccurate and that they have suffered a loss, such as withdrawal of a job offer.
For further information go to GOV.UK – Job offers: your rights