Pre-employment checks

Pre-employment checks: checking references


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.

Except for certain employers in the financial services sector, employers are not obliged to give references. The easiest way to obtain references is in writing. You could ask:

  • when and for how long the candidate was employed
  • what their job title and main duties were
  • how many days of sick leave they took, but be mindful of disabilities which could affect an employee's level of sickness absence
  • whether they were subject to disciplinary action - and if so - why
  • whether they were reliable, honest and hardworking
  • if there are any reasons why they should not be employed

Extra detail can be revealed by telephoning the referee. It is advisable to write to the referee first so they expect your call and have time to prepare.

If you have any doubts about whether a reference is genuine, you should ring back to check the referee's identity.

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 subject access requests.

    • ICO Northern Ireland
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