Pre-employment checks

Pre-employment checks: checking references

Guide

Although not compulsory, it is advisable to check a potential employee's references.

You can do this in writing or by telephone at any point during the recruitment process. Some candidates will prefer you not to check their references until they have been offered the job, and you should seek their consent before any referees are contacted.

There is no automatic right to receive a reference from a previous or current employer, except for roles in organisations covered by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. The easiest way to obtain references is in writing.

References should give facts such as start and end dates, job title, salary and sickness absences (excluding any absence related to a disability or parental leave).

You may wish to follow up on the information disclosed by having an informal conversation with the author of the reference, or the previous employer. Asking specific questions can disclose additional information for example, details on the employee's performance, integrity, relevant personal information and reasons for leaving. However, caution should be taken as to how any additional information is interpreted. After an informal conversation, good practice suggests:

  • Any information provided should not be used as a substitute for you making your own judgement about employment.
  • The information should be weighed against all evidence received during the recruitment process, making a balanced decision that takes into account all available information.
  • Consideration as to the context and circumstances of the information provided, should be carried out as circumstances can change. It may be appropriate to involve the potential employee in this consideration.

Are references confidential?

Generally, employees do not have the right to ask their employer to see a job reference that the employer has written about them which has been given in confidence. However, they may be able to gain access to it from the person the reference is sent to, so you should not assume a reference will stay confidential.

Individuals may also be able to access notes made about them during a telephone reference as well as any notes you make during and after their interview.

Read Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) guidance on your right of access to your personal information.

  • ICO Northern Ireland
    028 9027 8757
Developed with:
  • LRA