It is generally permissible to seek references about job applicants. However, to seek and rely on references only from applicants’ current or former employers is likely to cause disadvantage for persons who have been out of conventional employment for a long time, who have intermittent employment records, or who have not yet developed an extensive employment record in the local economy.
A range of people can be disadvantaged in this way, such as some disabled persons, some women with dependants, recently arrived migrant workers and young workers. Therefore, seeking and relying only on references from current or former employers could potentially give rise to disability discrimination and indirect sex, race and age discrimination. For this reason, a policy of seeking references only from current or former employers should be objectively justified.
Yes. It’s good practice to also accept references from other persons who know the applicants in a non-occupational context and who can provide information that is relevant to the job selection criteria, and which may help you to assess the applicants against those criteria.
Apply your policy of seeking references consistently to all applicants, without discrimination.
When asking for references:
provide the referees with the job descriptions and personnel specifications relevant to the jobs in question, and
ask specific questions which seek to obtain information about an applicant’s ability to carry out the particular requirements of the job.