I was surprised to read about the £36,000 compensation settlement given to a social worker who lost her job due to a bad reference from her former employer. I didn’t think people set much store by references these days and I thought most organisations had stopped giving them.
I have no hard data for this but most organisations I have worked with over the past five years or so seem to have abandoned giving any references, apart from a confirmation of employment dates, last job title and, occasionally, absence record. Managers are discouraged or even banned giving any non-factual information, either verbally or in writing.
References are not worth the paper they are written on. If you have a decent assessment process you should be able to get a good idea of a person’s capabilities and fit with your organisation. Companies should stop giving and asking for subjective information on performance and attitude. The case in South Tyneside shows where this sort of thing can lead.
When I first started in HR, people still went to great lengths to get references. I thought they were pointless then and, thankfully, most employers now seem to have come round to my way of thinking.