When should references be sought?

Written references should ideally be obtained before a decision to appoint is acted upon. However, offers of employment can be made subject to satisfactory references, and in certain circumstances an appointment might be made on the basis of detailed verbal references in advance of a written reference. In the event of any query about information supplied in a reference, or in the case of a non-supply of a reference, advice from your HRBP should be sought before proceeding further.

Who can provide a reference?

Candidates are asked during the recruitment stage to provide details of at least two people, who have agreed to provide a reference for them.

If the candidate has previously been employed, the referees should be people who have direct experience of the candidate's work, and at least one of them should be the current/immediately previous formal line manager. It is not recommended that a reference from a personal friend is used.

If an applicant does not have previous work experience, references should normally be sought from individuals who have had professional interaction with the applicant - e.g. from school, or voluntary experience.

Candidates will need to explain how each referee knows them (e.g. 'line manager', 'work colleague', 'college tutor'). References supplied by a relation should not be accepted.

References for internal candidates

Where a candidate currently works, or has previously worked, for the University it is important that the department offering employment is fully aware of all the circumstances in which a person has previously left another department.

Before making an offer of employment in these circumstances, heads of department or departmental administrators must take up a basic reference from the head or administrator of the previous employing department. This must be done in addition to taking references from the individuals cited as referees by the job applicant. (Past difficult cases have often featured references being given by colleagues rather than the head or administrator.)

Heads and administrators responding to such requests for references must disclose all the relevant and material facts and information, especially where problems or difficulties have been experienced with the person's conduct or capability. Where a department employs a person whose departure from a previous department has been problematic and has involved considerable management and personnel resources, the employing department will be directly responsible for the costs associated with addressing any similar employment difficulties should they recur.

What information should be requested from the referee?

Referees should be supplied with details of the post, usually by providing a job description and asked to comment on the candidate's suitability for it. They should also be asked to provide details of the dates of the candidate's employment and of any disciplinary processes which are still considered 'live'. The Core e-recruitment system gives candidates the option to indicate whether they consent to their referees being contacted at any time and care should be taken to respect candidate's wishes in this regard. Pro-forma letters are available to download from the 'Documents' list on the right-hand side.

Can referees be asked about sickness absence record?

In light of the Equality Act 2010, the provisions of the Data Protection Act, departments are asked not to request sickness absence information from referees. 

Once a conditional offer has been made and a pre-employment health screening form is sent, candidates will be asked to disclose their sickness record.  This information will be assessed by the Occupational Health team, in confidence, who will be able to make professional judgements about the relevance of the sickness absence history before making their recommendations about the candidates medical fitness for the post.

Confidentiality of references under the GDPR and related UK data protection legislation

A candidate may ask for a copy of a reference by submitting a subject access request under the GDPR/Data Protection Act 2018. However, confidential references are exempt from disclosure. If you receive a request from a candidate for a copy of a reference, you should forward it the University’s Information Compliance Team (ICT) at: The ICT will consult the referee on whether they object to disclosure, and, if so, whether the reference can be withheld.

Job details

A statement should be included in the job details for a post advising candidates that the applicant's line manager will be asked to provide a reference (in the case of internal candidates this will be the Head of Department or the departmental administrator).

Giving references

Care should be taken when providing a reference for a current or a previous employee of the University. Departments are advised to follow the principles outlined below when giving a reference:

  • a reference must be true, accurate and fair and it must not give a misleading impression of the employee. Referees are reminded of their ‘duty of care’ to the employee when providing a reference;
  • any opinions stated must be backed by factual information;
  • only provide the information requested and do not give unnecessary additional details;
  • do not include sensitive data in a reference (related to an individual’s physical/mental health, ethnic/racial origin, religious beliefs, sexual life, trade union membership);
  • references should be marked confidential, but referees should bear in mind that any reference provided could potentially be disclosed to the employee under a subject access request;
  • a copy of the reference provided should be kept on the individual's personnel file.

Where there are any doubts over providing a reference, advice should be sought from the relevant HRBP.

See the guidance above about confidentiality of references.