There is a growing and disturbing trend among US and Canadian companies to implement a policy of work confirmation-only references. In other words, their policy is to confirm employment, and that's all. This is a major career management hurdle for all of us.
We all deserve references for work well done. They are, in effect, part of our compensation, a reward for work well done. So, given that you cannot impact company policy, what can you do?
What this trend does is highlight the importance of relationships with former collegues. To the extent that you have close relationships with former managers, peers and subordinates, you have the opportunity to receive those all-important, in depth, personal references from those you have worked closely with in the past.
It is up to you to determine what your references will and will not say. If someone on your list admits that they wouldn't be comfortable providing a reference given company policy, say thank-you very much and think about who else can go on your list.
If you are managing your relationships properly (give and take), in my experience, good people can get good references. Your reference may take a reference call from home rather than at the office, but not matter. Work those relationships. Find out where you stand, before your prospective employer finds out for you.