In reference to references

You have received a reference request from a former employee, who was dismissed from your company for poor performance.  You note the role he is applying for is at a more senior level to that he held with you.  However, as it’s against the law to give a bad reference, you feel you must tell his new employer he was a model employee.

Not quite.  It is an oft-repeated urban myth that there is a law precluding a “bad” reference.  However proceed with caution nonetheless.  Employment law does give some protection to employees seeking a reference from a former employer and expectedly so, as their future job prospects can be in the balance.

What is allowed is a factual reference, so, for example, many organisations choose to confirm only start and leave dates and job titles, thus avoiding any accusation of untruth or unfairness.  However should you wish to add more detail than this, such as issuing what you feel is a fair warning to your former employee’s prospective new boss, then it must be factual.  If your employee, (Mr X), went happily through his employment never being advised his performance was not up to par and left blissfully unaware of the sighs of relief that accompanied him, it will hardly be deemed fair or reasonable to condemn him in writing now.  If however, Mr X was subject to a performance improvement process where it was clear to him what needed to improve and how he could try to do so, then it may be deemed reasonable to state in a reference, if asked, that Mr X’s reason for leaving was dismissal due to capability.

-Annabel Innes (HRML)


Any of your business?

Your organisation recently held a party to mark its 10th anniversary and you anticipate nothing more than a few sore heads the next day.  Well this isn’t entirely true as an unwelcome reminder of the party has just landed on your desk and it appears to be serious.

Most of your employees attended the party a few days ago, and you felt a good time was had by all.  The following week, however, an email arrives from a female employee, let’s call her Jane, alleging that a male senior manager, let’s call him John, made some inappropriate and unwelcome suggestions to her at the party.  Jane alleges that John asked her to come back to his hotel room with him not once but four or five times.  When Jane refused, she alleges that John said he was going to let everyone know that she was not a reliable employee and should definitely not be promoted, something Jane is keen for.   As these allegations all took place quite late, at a party held off-site, and involved adults, you feel it’s nothing to do with you as an employer, and you plan to advise Jane that, whilst you’re sympathetic to her embarrassment, there’s nothing you can do.

This is unlikely to be sufficient however, and may actually land you in further hot water.  As the event in question was a works party, it has a clear connection to the workplace, as opposed to, say, an impromptu evening at the pub attended by a few colleagues.   The relationship between the two employees was forged at work and was one of senior manager and more junior colleague.  It is likely that, should you choose to do nothing and Jane was to pursue a tribunal claim for constructive dismissal, your inaction would reflect badly on you and add substance to her claim that the mutual contractual obligation of trust and confidence had been broken.

Our advice therefore would be to investigate the grievance, just as you would for any other workplace grievance, and take any action deemed appropriate following the investigation.  It may of course be that you don’t feel the investigation has shown there is a case for John to answer – the crucial thing is that you have thoroughly and impartially investigated the issue in a timely manner.


-Annabel Innes, HRML

Engagement, it’s a daily thing

Things go in peaks and troughs here at HRML towers…. Well it’s the time of year say those who know, you might expect a bit of a dip at Christmas, school holidays, Fridays, that sort of thing.

I wonder why that is though?  I’m doubting you leave your accounts unmanaged, because it’s the winter, or take your eye off customer service because it somehow matters less.  Is people management really something that you only do at certain times of the year?

Many organisations proudly state “our employees are our most important asset”, or grand words to that effect – but is this really the case?  Can anyone honestly say they prioritise their people, their experiences whilst at work, and their wellbeing over anything else?

The thing is, to truly build a successful organisation that, crucially, keeps on being successful, we can’t afford to neglect the clear link between employee engagement and satisfaction at work, and improved organisational performance.  Equally, can you really afford to ignore the potential consequences of an employee’s poor performance or inappropriate behaviour on the business or your other employees?

The key thing is, if you are spending time on people management, you ARE spending important time on your organisation’s performance and success.  Numerous studies over many years have established a link, and you don’t need to know too much about it to work out that employees who are fulfilled, motivated and supported at work are likely to do a better job than those who aren’t.

The good news is that no one is suggesting you have to throw loads of money around in order to achieve the end goal of motivated employees.  Indeed, whilst a good salary is undoubtedly nice, it is very rarely the main motivator for people, who sometimes would just like their manager to say thank you now and again.  What it will take is some time, and that is the point – people quickly get the message that they are not important if you frequently cancel time with them as something more “important” has arisen.  Yes you may need to take your focus away from the practical running of the organisation for a short time, but time spent doing so will pay dividends when you get back to that practical operational work.