If you receive any requests for an employment reference, it is important to provide one that is fair, accurate and compliant with the law. Please see the below FAQ for more information and advice on how to do this. For any more complex queries, please contact your HR Strategic Partner.

If you are asked to provide a reference for the purpose of confirming someone’s salary – this may be for a mortgage application or to rent a property – please forward this on to the HR Staff Hub to complete.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I require consent from the individual to be able to respond to a reference request?

Yes – check that the individual has given their consent first. If they have left the College since 2018, they should have indicated their consent on their leavers form. If you do not hold a copy of the leavers form, you can request this information from the HR Staff Hub. The person requesting the reference may be able to show you that they have given their consent by, for example, providing a signed agreement form or a letter from the employee giving their consent.

If you are providing a reference for an internal candidate, they should have confirmed their consent by agreeing to the Data Privacy Policy Statement on TalentLink (the College’s recruitment platform).

Under GDPR legislation, employers must ensure that they have a legal basis for processing data in relation to giving a reference. You must therefore consider whether you are satisfied that the individual has given their consent and wishes for the reference to be provided before doing so.

If you are unsure, you should seek their consent either through the person requesting the reference or the individual themselves. You should not provide the reference until you have established their consent.

If the individual left the College under a settlement agreement, check with your HR Strategic Partner if there was an agreed reference; if there was, only this reference should be used.

Do not allude to whether the individual left under a settlement agreement or not. If the requestor specifically asks about this, you should respond that ‘It is College policy not to respond to questions regarding settlement agreements. This should not be taken as an indication that [Name] has or has not entered into a settlement agreement with the College.’

Is there any obligation to provide a reference?

There is no legal obligation to provide a reference when asked. However, to refuse to give a reference may have negative effects on an individual, and so it is College policy to respond to requests whenever possible.

Do I need to provide a reference for an internal candidate?

Yes – if you are asked to provide a reference for a member of your team for another role at the College, the same guidance applies. However, recruiting managers can use their discretion as to whether references are required or not for internal candidates, so you may not need to provide one.

Who can respond to a reference request?

If you are their most recent line manager or a senior member of staff, then ideally you should respond to any reference requests. If this is not possible, the HR Staff Hub team can provide a brief factual reference confirming job title, dates of employment and reason for leaving.

At times, it may be more appropriate for a different senior colleague to respond to the reference request; in this case, you should contact your HR Strategic Partner to discuss.

How should I respond to a reference request?

Often, prospective employers will send a form with set questions and answers which you can complete. If this is not available, a written reference via letter or email is preferable. Providing oral references is discouraged as these have the potential to be misrepresented. If you do provide an oral reference, they should be brief and factual and followed up in writing. Before providing an oral reference, it is also good practice to check that the person you will be speaking to has the authority to request a reference.

Your reference should be restricted to matters of fact and you should provide your contact name and address so that prospective employers can request further information if needed.

Do send a copy of the reference to the HR Staff Hub for filing.

What information can I provide or not provide in a reference?

-          General information to include

When providing a reference, you should mark it to the reference requester and state that it is ‘Private and confidential – for the addressee only’.

Within the reference, you should include the below information:

  • Job title
  • Brief outline of role
  • Dates of employment
  • Reasons for leaving

For example:

Job Title: Research Technician

Outline of Role: To provide a range of technical support to the research conducted by the Section of xx. This included collecting samples and using xx techniques to extract data. In addition, duties also included laboratory administrative responsibilities.

Dates of Employment: 1 January 2017 – 31 March 2019

Reason for Leaving: Resignation

You should end the reference with the following disclaimer:

This reference is given to the addressee in confidence and only for the purposes for which it was requested. It is given in good faith, and on the basis of the information available to the College at the time it is given, but neither the writer nor Imperial College London accepts any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage caused to the addressee or any third party as a result of any reliance being placed on it.

-          Information not to include

You should not include any information which may be inaccurate, mislead or unfairly present a poor image of the individual. Do not respond to questions or provide information regarding any aspect of attendance or sickness. This information can potentially be misrepresented or be deemed discriminatory.

-          Other comments you may add

You should provide information that is balanced and fair. It is advisable to provide references that are brief. If you wish to do so, you may comment on whether you believe the individual is suitable for the new role but should do so with care as this can be less easy to justify objectively.

If you wish to comment on their performance/competence, only comment on what you know. Use reasonable skill and care to ensure the accuracy of all facts and statements that you use and ensure that, even where facts given are accurate, they do not present the individual in a way that could be deemed unfair. You should not give a favourable reference if it is inaccurate. For example, if the individual was dismissed for poor performance or misconduct, a highly complimentary reference would be misleading.

-          If there were any issues

If there were/are any performance concerns and/or relationship concerns and/or the individual was dismissed, you should speak to your HR Strategic Team before submitting your response.

Ensure that your reference is not in any way discriminatory nor victimises the individual for any previously-raised complaints.

Where does the College refer to the provision of references/personal data in formal documentation?

Privacy Notice

The Privacy Notice sets out the College’s legitimate interests for processing personal data.

In terms of sharing information with others, it states that the College may share limited personal data with other employers in the form of a reference, where asked for it, or where required to do so in compliance with legal obligations or regulatory rules. 

The Privacy Notice informs employees of their rights under the GDPR in respect of their personal data, including that they have the right to require the College to cease processing personal data, and the right to request that the College restricts its data processing activities.

Core Terms and Conditions of Service

The College’s core terms and conditions contain a data protection clause which states that the College will collect, process and store personal information/data, and refers to the College’s legitimate interests for processing. They also contain a link to the Privacy Notice.

Data Protection Codes of Practice

The Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) gives individuals the right to have access to data stored by the College about them.  Confidential references received by the College are exempt from the right of access by the data subject to whom they refer provided that such references have been written "In Confidence" and clearly state this. However, this exemption from disclosure to the data subject may not be possible to rely on in all circumstances – and the College may decide in any event that it is reasonable to disclose the reference (possibly, after anonymising it e.g. to remove the identity of the referee or where the referee has given his/her consent). Please refer to Code of practice 3 – Access to personal data by subjects for further information.

Who can help if I need further information or assistance?

Please contact the HR Staff Hub if you need any factual information on the employment history of an individual, or the HR Strategic Team for further advice.