Murrell Associates continue to invest in their growing team with two new paralegals

Henry Maples, Emma Robinson and Jessica Bishop

Murrell Associates are continuing to grow and invest in their team with two new paralegals, Jessica Bishop and Emma Robinson, both of whom have recently been awarded training contracts with the firm. Emma and Jessica will complete their training contracts in September 2020.

Both Emma and Jessica grew up in Cornwall and have returned to their Cornish roots after completing their degrees in London. Jessica completed her law degree at BPP University and went on to work for a London law firm before returning to Cornwall. She has begun her training contract working in the commercial and intellectual property team with Rebecca Anforth, who heads up this department at Murrell Associates. Jessica says “I’m really excited to be given the opportunity to complete my training contract with Murrell Associates. They are a specialist business and commercial law firm, the only one in Cornwall, so the experience I will gain will really help me to develop detailed knowledge in this area of law.”

Emma studied law at King’s College, London. She joined Murrell Associates as a paralegal in the summer of 2018 after completing an internship with the firm. Her first seat within her training contract is assisting the corporate team. Emma says “Working at Murrell Associates has been a fantastic learning experience since day one and I am very grateful to the firm for supporting my further training and development. I look forward to the day when I can say that I am a fully qualified solicitor!”

Henry Maples, Partner at Murrell Associates added “We are delighted to be able to offer this opportunity to Emma and Jessica and look forward to seeing them develop their knowledge and complete their journey to becoming qualified solicitors with Murrell Associates. We are a specialist team and work closely with our clients and their businesses, so recruiting and training the right people for this is obviously crucial for us. I wish Emma and Jessica every success.”

Employer Guides: Should I give a reference?

References are often an area of confusion and concern for employers. Many decline to provide a reference for fear of the potential legal consequences of responding honestly. This has the negative side-effect of reducing the worth of a valuable recruitment tool.

So what are the risks involved in providing a reference, and what can you do to minimise these risks, if you would like to provide a reference for an employee.

Do I have to give a reference?
Generally (subject to certain exceptions in the financial services sector and education) there is no obligation to provide a reference. However, if employers do decide to respond to a request, there are three main things to be mindful of:

  1. Civil claims of negligent misstatement, defamation or malicious falsehood from either the employee or prospective employer;
  2. Discrimination claims; and
  3. Data protection (GDPR).

What are the risks?
The general rule is that if a reference is provided it must be fair, accurate and truthful and not give a misleading impression.
The main risk is a claim of negligent misstatement from either the employee, prospective employer or both for damages. In practice such claims are rare and unlikely to result where a positive (and accurate) reference is given. The chances of a reference resulting in a claim are significantly increased where an unfavourable reference is provided, especially where a substantial loss can be shown to have arisen as a result (i.e. because a conditional offer of employment has been withdrawn). Although of course if the reference complies with the aforementioned general rule, the employer will have a defence to the claim.

There is also potential for an employment tribunal discrimination claim if the reference, or even the failure to provide the reference, is due to a protected characteristic (such as age, race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief). Adopting a consistent approach to the provision of references is therefore important and you need to be mindful that the content of the reference cannot be seen as discriminatory.

Data protection wise, the provision of a reference will usually be a form of data processing. You should therefore ensure that you have complied with GDPR principles and, if disclosing health-related information about a sickness record or reasons for absence, that the employee consents to the provision of confidential personal information being held on them to the person or entity requesting it.

Do I have to provide a copy of the reference to the employee if this is requested?
Simply put, no. The GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018 permits both the reference provider and the recipient to decline to provide a copy of a reference if it is requested by the subject. This is a change to the previous position under the Data Protection Act 1998.

However, this does not extend to disclosure in legal proceedings. Therefore, if the matter escalates to the court or tribunal stage, you will be required to disclose the document as part of the proceedings.

4 Top Tips – to help avoid any problems, we would recommend:

  1. that employers have a policy to help them handle reference requests, detailing what information they and their employees can provide. This should help ensure compliance with data protection law and reduce the risk of a discrimination claim;
  2. the simple fact is that there is a correlation between the amount of information provided and the risk of liability. When in doubt, adopt a short, factual and consistent approach;
  3. if negative information is included in a reference, it should have been raised with the employee first and clearly documented; and
  4. the use of a clear disclaimer can eliminate the chance of a successful claim by the recipient of a reference.

If you have received a request for a reference, been threatened with legal action concerning a reference you have provided, require assistance with a reference policy or would like to discuss any aspect of employment law generally, please contact Melanie Rowe on 01872 227006 or by email at melanie.rowe@murrellassociates.co.uk.