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As an employer you are not obliged to provide a reference, with the exception of the employees who have it stated in their contracts.

References can be given in writing or verbally over the phone; the general consensus is to do it in writing to avoid misinterpretation over what is said.

What to Include

It is your decision to the length of the reference you write, you are under no duty to make it extremely detailed. Many managers only give concise statements covering specifics to avoid potential liabilities.

Below is a list of details for you to consider including:

  • Dates and duration of employment
  • Position and responsibilities
  • Level of performance
  • Level of punctuality (including any periods of absence)
  • Any relevant personal information
  • Reason for leaving

Legal Issues

Negligence and Libel:

As an employer you are obliged to provide an accurate and fair reference, without malice. If the employee feels that the reference provided is inaccurate or misleading they can get in touch with the employment tribunal and claim negligence for any damage suffered as a result.

Data Protection:

The Data Protection Act 1998 gives an individual various rights relating to data held about him/her, including access to the data and the requirement to give consent before it is passed to a third party or outside the European Union.
This means you would have to get the consent of the employee before disclosing any sensitive personal information in a reference. This includes things such as race information and health (sickness) details.


You have to consider confidentiality issues, so mark all references “private and confidential”. Input a disclaimer at the bottom of the reference to exclude liability for errors or any possible inaccurate information. This does not however allow you to enter false information within the reference; you still have to write it to the best of your knowledge.

Lastly, make sure you maintain a record of all references given including copies of any information that relate.