Reference taking


An employer is overwhelmed with applications for a job. The employer must make a choice, decide who to invite to an interview and who will ultimately get the job.

Taking references is a tool that is frequently used to sort through the candidates. It also allows the employee to stand out when his former employer gives him good references.

Personal data

When a former employer is asked to give a reference on a candidate, he or she will transmit certain information concerning his or her behavior within the company, his or her qualifications or the reasons for his or her dismissal. These are personal data of the candidate that the former and the new employer are not allowed to process without further consent.


The processing of the employee's personal data is only possible with the employee's consent. The employer cannot, in principle, spontaneously contact the applicant's former employers to ask them for references on the applicant for the job.

The situation is more delicate when the applicant does not expressly give his or her consent but cites employers as references in his curriculum vitae.


It is relatively common for a candidate to embellish his or her resume and exaggerate his or her job responsibilities or skills. When in doubt, it is recommended that the employer ask for references from previous employers, if the candidate agrees.

If the employer has not taken these precautions and discovers that the employee has lied on his or her resume, the possibilities of terminating the employee with immediate effect are very limited.


When an employee asks a former employer to provide references, the employer is obligated to do so. The potential employer often asks numerous questions regarding the reasons for the dismissal, any work disability or pregnancy, or the employee's union opinions.

This information is personal and sometimes sensitive. The former employer must handle this delicate situation with care. The communication of some of this information will be illegal. The employer may be liable.

Social networks

Sometimes, a curious employer searches the Internet or social networks to get an idea of the candidate before even meeting him. Surprise! They come across photos of parties that are a little too drunk or sensitive information such as the candidate's family situation or his or her membership in a political party or religion.

Does the employer have the right to take these references from the Internet? Can he refuse to hire a candidate because of the information he found there?

Employer Responsibility

Taking or giving references is a crucial step in the hiring process. But they must be treated with great caution because they can seriously damage the economic future of the employee.

Employers risk liability when they disclose sensitive information to the detriment of their former employee when the circumstances do not warrant it.

Nor can the employer disclose unnecessarily disparaging or false information about the former employee or refuse to disclose information on the basis that the former employee was not appreciated.

In view of the damage that such information may cause to the employee's economic future and career, the employer may have to compensate the former employee. 

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1 Mar, 2010 byMarianne Favre Moreillon