ACAS have released new guidance on employment references this month. The guidance covers a wide variety of topics, including what information a reference may include and the circumstances in which a reference might be needed. It also sets out the options open to both employers and job applicants if there is a problem with a reference. The guidance emphasises that those giving references must make them fair and accurate and those asking for them must handle them fairly and consistently. The full guidelines are available online here.

The topic is relevant for many employers, who use employment references as a useful tool when considering job applications. In the recent case of Francis-McGann v. West Atlantic UK Limited, a pilot, who had resigned after it was discovered that he had provided a false reference in a job application, brought a breach of contract claim against his former employer. Mr Francis-McGann had made a number of false representations in his application to West Atlantic, including that he had previously worked as a captain when, in fact, his previous positions had all been at the level of first officer. In addition, the false reference provided by the claimant was stated to be a "Desilijic Tiure" (an alternative name for Jabba the Hutt, a Star Wars character) and addressed from a false email address. Following the discovery of his conduct, Mr Francis-McGann was offered the opportunity to resign and he did so. However, he subsequently brought a claim against his employer for three months' notice pay on the basis that he had resigned with notice. His employer contended that he had resigned without notice and was therefore not entitled to notice pay. Birmingham Employment Tribunal dismissed the claim, finding that, in the circumstances, the airline was well within its rights to treat the pilot's actions as gross misconduct and dismiss him summarily. The tribunal also allowed the airline's counterclaim and ordered the pilot to pay back training costs of £4725.

Michael Bronstein, employment partner at Dentons, told People Management that employers needed to carry out rigorous checks of references:

“I think this case is about recognising the flaws in human nature that we sometimes take what someone says at face value. Employers need to carefully cross-check references because it’s your only chance to check what the employee is telling you.”

References can be a useful way of verifying information provided in an employment application and can assist potential employers in deciding if an applicant is suitable for a position. There are a number of things to bear in mind when requesting and reviewing references and the new ACAS guidance will be of use to employers and job applicants alike.