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Use this series of pages to guide you through the steps to take when recruiting staff. This includes designing, advertising, shortlisting and interviewing for the role, offering the job and inducting new staff.
Once you’ve decided on the appropriate candidate, you’ll need to send a provisional offer of employment letter and conduct pre-employment checks. This page explains these steps in more detail.
First, you should make a written offer of employment subject to satisfactory completion of the following pre-employment checks. Any verbal offer (discussion before a written offer is sent) should also make it clear that the offer is conditional on these checks.
Looking for more guidance? Download an example job offer letter from the Acas website.
You should inform unsuccessful applicants once the position has been provisionally accepted and provide feedback if requested.
Focus on evidence, for example:
You should always follow up references from previous employers. But don’t contact the applicant’s present employer until they’ve given you permission to do so.
If there’s only one previous employer, or none, you should seek academic references in preference to personal references.
References should be used to support or deny the information gained about an applicant, not to choose between applicants.
A reference request can cover the following areas.
A referee is not under any legal obligation to provide a reference. An increasing number of organisations have a policy of providing ‘bare minimum’ references comprising dates of employment, job title and salary on leaving. However, a person who does provide a reference is under a legal obligation to ensure that the information given is accurate and truthful.
If a reference doesn’t provide straightforward information in response to the initial request, you might want to follow up with a phone or video call, if the referee is willing to do so. Make notes of the conversation so you can refer back to them.
Once you’ve made a conditional offer, you can withdraw it if the references are unsatisfactory.
Consider references in an impartial manner and be aware that referees aren’t always impartial – an applicant may have experienced prejudice in a previous organisation. If you’re concerned about this, discuss the details of the reference with the applicant.
Providing a reference will inevitably involve processing personal data under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The applicant’s current employer may be wary of providing a reference unless the employee has provided their consent. So it can be helpful to provide referees with a copy of a signed consent from the job applicant, stating that they agree to a reference being provided.
Under a specific exemption in the regulation, a worker does not have the right to access a confidential job reference from the organisation that’s given it. But once the reference is with the recipient organisation then no such exemption exists. The recipient organisation is, however, entitled to take steps to protect the identity of third parties. This includes the author of the reference.
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Under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, you’re legally obliged to carry out ‘right-to-work’ checks on everyone you plan to employ. You could face a civil penalty if you employ an illegal worker and haven’t carried out these checks correctly.
To check an applicant’s right to work in the UK, you can:
GOV.UK has more detailed guidance on how to check a job applicant’s right to work.
Section 60(1) of the Equality Act 2010 generally prohibits employers from asking applicants questions about their health before a job offer is made. However, after the job offer, you may ask prospective employees:
It’s a good idea to ask these questions in writing and request a written response.
A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check tells you about an applicant’s criminal history. It’s not essential for most roles but is important if applicants will be required to work with children or vulnerable adults.
There are four levels of DBS check:
A basic DBS check will let you know whether a job applicant has any ‘unspent’ cautions or convictions.
A job applicant can apply for a basic check on GOV.UK, or you can apply for one on their behalf, as long as you have their consent.
Under the Data Protection Act 2018, you can carry out DBS checks where it’s ‘necessary for the purposes of performing or exercising employment law obligations or rights’. You’ll need to be able to demonstrate this need.
It’s good practice to have a positive attitude to ex-offenders and to only take offences into account if they’re relevant to the job.
For some posts, you must seek a higher level of DBS check. This could be a standard, enhanced or enhanced with barred list(s) DBS check. You should only carry out these checks for posts that are exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 – it’s a criminal offence to do otherwise.
Applications for standard and enhanced DBS checks must be made by a prospective employer – job applicants can’t apply themselves. They’re then sent to the DBS through a registered body.
Checks are subject to the job applicant’s consent. The disclosure certificate is sent directly to the job applicant who must then hand it to their prospective employer.
You should give a copy of the policy to the job applicant before you carry out the checks.
It’s important to note that conducting a background check by requiring the employee to take out a ‘subject access request’ as a condition of employment is a criminal offence under the Data Protection Act 1998.
Once you’ve completed these checks, you can confirm the offer of employment and your new employee can start work.
Both the employer and employee need to sign a written statement of terms and conditions of employment. Make sure you share this with your employee on or before their first day of work. Once signed, both parties should keep a copy.
You should also provide a copy of your workforce privacy notice, or let the new employee know where they can find it.
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