The danger of oral references

16 Dec 2015

A case reported last week gives us an excellent example of why it can be dangerous to give oral references about employees. Ms P had been made redundant by Coventry City Council and signed a settlement agreement that contained a positive reference in agreed form, signed by her former manager, Ms T. Ms P was disabled and while at the Council she had had significant time off work for medical treatment.

She was offered a new job by NHS England and, in response to a routine request, the Council duly provided the agreed reference. NHS England had some concerns and phoned Ms T. On the phone, Ms T indicated that she would not recommend Ms P for the new job. She implied that Ms P’s previous sickness absences had adversely affected her performance and that she might struggle to cope with pressure.

As a result of this, NHS England withdrew the job offer. Ms P claimed that she had been a discriminated against by both the Council and NHS England: she had been treated unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of her disability. The EAT upheld her claim.

Having a policy that prohibits employees giving oral references and/or issuing instructions to that effect are the best ways of avoiding the problem.

(Pnaiser v NHS England and Coventry City Council UKEAT/0137/15, 4 December 2015)

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