Employment Law: Recruitment and Selection … The Value of References

Employment Law: Recruitment and Selection … The Value of References

Requesting a reference is a common element of recruitment and selection activity, but it is now really common for referees to give minimum information, possibly because of concerns about the applicant or the employer raising a complaint. In turn organisations often feel it isn’t worthwhile asking for references and may not bother, feeling that they don’t provide any useful information anyway.

The case of Francis McGann v West Atlantic UK Ltd. prompts us to rethink the importance of checking references.

Francis McGann was successful in being offered a post as a captain with West Atlantic UK. When applying for the post he had given the name of Desilijic Tiure as a referee.

McGann commenced his training, having signed a training fees agreement, enabling the organisation to recover training costs from him if he was dismissed during the first six months of his employment.

Training Mr. McGann cost West Atlantic £4725 and during this time, it became known that McGann had not told the truth in his application, claiming he was trained as a captain, when in fact he was only trained to first officer level. It was also identified that the referee name – Desilijic Tiure – and email address were in fact false; Desilijic Tiure is a Star Wars character, also known as Jabba the Hutt.

Mr. McGann admitted he had given a false reference and was offered the opportunity to resign rather than being dismissed for gross misconduct. He accepted but then brought a claim for three months’ notice pay. West Atlantic refused payment and lodged a claim for the £4725 in training fees.

At Tribunal, Mr. McGann’s claim for notice pay was not upheld, however West Atlantic were successful in their claim to recover the cost of training.

What does this mean for your organisation?

This case does in fact reinforce the continuing importance of references, and the need to ask referees to provide key information, such as training where this is of importance and relevance, rather than just requesting details of dates of employment and roles, as is now often the case.

McGann’s situation could have been fatal, leaving the organisation liable for not checking details of the individual’s training. Although a referee may not be willing to give extensive responses, getting confirmation of the applicant’s employment history is in itself important information.

It is advisable not to accept a personal email address for a referee and instead to make a phone call so that you can confirm that they do exist. Ask clear and direct questions of referees to make sure you get the information you need about the applicant.

At interview, if there are any gaps in the applicant’s employment history, explore these to establish why this is the case and what they were doing during this time.

When employment is offered, always make this subject to satisfactory references, making this clear in the offer letter. By doing so, the offer can be withdrawn immediately if a reference is not forthcoming, or if something becomes apparent once employment has begun. This will allow you to terminate the contract based on the wording in the offer letter rather than having to give contractual notice.

McGann’s case is also useful in highlighting the benefit of using a Training Fee Agreement when there are costs involved in training a new employee. Setting out a properly worded Agreement with the rules on repayment, and asking the employee to sign the document means there is a contract in place which clarifies the circumstances under which training fees are repayable and how much will be reclaimed.


cHRysos HR Solutions, is a Doncaster based HR training and consultancy company providing CIPD and CMI accredited qualifications nationwide, as well as HR Consultancy to SMEs.  For more information about cHRysos HR and the consultancy services we provide, email info@chrysos.org.uk or call +44 (0)1302 802128.

Share This Post

Posted In

cHRysos HR Solutions are a UK wide HR training and consultancy company offering CIPD accredited qualifications, Apprenticeships, Training and HR Services to SMEs. For more information about how cHRysos HR can help you or your teams successfully achieve further qualifications, contact us on info@chrysos.org.uk or call 03300 562443.