Q: I have been asked to supply a reference for a former employee. Can you tell me, what is the difference between a corporate reference and a personal reference?
A: A corporate reference should be written on company headed paper. It is provided on behalf of the company and the company is legally responsible for the contents. A personal reference can refer to work undertaken by the company but it should not be provided on behalf of the company, should not include the referee's job title and should not be written on company paper.
It is advisable for all businesses to implement a policy for dealing with references. This should include who within the company can provide a reference, whether the reference should be verbal or written and what information it can include. There is actually no obligation on your business to provide a reference, for current or former employees, but you should be consistent in your decision as otherwise it could lead to allegations of discrimination.
A company is not allowed to discriminate on the grounds of any of the nine protected characteristics under current employment legislation: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Having a clear policy in place about the circumstances in which references will be given will help if you did ever need to defend an allegation of discriminatory treatment. Similarly, if you find yourself facing a claim for victimisation because you have refused to provide a reference for an employee or former employee who has previously alleged or brought proceedings for discrimination against your business, a clear policy will help.
There are several other aspects to be aware of regarding references so if you are in any doubt you should consult an employment solicitor before writing your policy.