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What privacy issues should supervisors in Australian Government agencies take into account when providing referee reports?

It is usual practice when applying for a position in a government agency for an applicant to include their current supervisor as a referee. The applicant would therefore be expecting, or giving implied consent to, the prospective employer contacting the supervisor to discuss their work performance, in relation to the selection criteria for the position.

If a prospective employer wishes to seek a referee report from someone other than the person the applicant has nominated, they should notify the applicant before seeking the report.

The Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) apply, in the following ways, to the disclosure of personal information contained in a record when providing a referee report:

  • where the information is used internally for a directly related purpose (such as commenting on the employee's performance) under APP 6.1
  • where the information is disclosed by a supervisor to an external employer (when acting as a referee) under APP 6.2(a), when the employee is reasonably likely to be aware of the disclosure
  • where the employee consents (impliedly or expressly) to the use or disclosure under APP 6.1(a).

Supervisors should avoid any comment in a referee report that is unrelated to the employee's work performance, such as their political or religious views and, generally speaking, health information.

In the interests of transparency and fairness, good practice indicates that information collected by a prospective employer when seeking a referee report should generally be entered into a record of the selection process.