Checking an employer’s reference: so you understand all formulations

The formulations in job references are difficult to understand, even for experts. This article will help you decipher the reference code.

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Your reference: What it (does not) say?

Understanding a job reference is mostly like reading in coffee grounds. Basically, the following applies Requirement of the testimony clarity, that is, that the reference clearly and understandably formulated must be. In addition, it must not be formulated in such a way that it contains statements about the employee other than verbatim statements.

However, this does not generally preclude the employer from including some typical formulations in the reference (BAG 23. September 1992- 5 AZR 573/91), such as a Reference code. In contrast, it is forbidden to omit common points that one might expect as a future boss (so-called "eloquent silence"). If, for example, an employer does not make any statements about the ability of a deadline worker to cope with stress, this is an unclear, potentially negative assessment and is therefore not permitted (BAG ruling dated 12 December 2006).08.2008- 9 AZR 632/07).

The reference code: Deciphering the wording in the job reference

Nevertheless, standards have become established over time, with which the employer can express what he really thinks of his employee. This so-called Report card code Follows a similar pattern, but is confusing in its exact characteristics even for experts. For a recent study, Manager Magazin put four human resources managers over a sample reference and had them evaluate it- with completely different results. This is not an isolated case. By consulting a specialist lawyer, you can gain clarity about how your reference can affect your future job applications.

Despite the fact that job references are highly individualized, there are some generally accepted rules:

1. The structure: Begins with the introduction, your name and date of birth, the job title and your start date. Then the company introduces itself in concise sentences with some standard details, such as company size, field of expertise and form of organization. This is followed (usually in bullet points) by your task description, always factually neutral and starting with the most important task. Only then comes the exciting part, namely your performance appraisal. It consists of various individual statements and a concluding overall assessment.

2. The individual statements regularly refer to

  • Working method
  • Willingness to work
  • Ability to work
  • Work success
  • leadership behavior

In some industries, further points can be added or omitted. However, if one of these categories is mentioned but not listed completely, this can already be a negative assessment. It depends with each testimony and each enterprise on the individual case.

As in school, this is followed by an overall grade, which should basically reflect what was previously enumerated. The evaluation can be roughly divided into four school grades:

  • Very goodAlways/always to our complete satisfaction; Exceeded our expectations at all times; Very good in all respects;..
  • Good: always to our complete satisfaction; were good at all times;..
  • Satisfactory: to our full satisfaction
  • Sufficient or worse: to our satisfaction; he has devoted himself to all tasks with enthusiasm (at least not with success); he has met our expectations in every respect; he has made an effort to meet his tasks (/requirements/ our expectations);..

The Federal Labor Court has recently ruled that the grade "satisfactory" is not a good indicator, contrary to partially held opinion, represents a permissible average evaluation, even if better evaluations are customary in the industry concerned.In addition in detail further down.
By the way, the employer is not allowed to link this to his personal requirements and expectations of you. For comparison, he/she must use a completely average employee of his/her company.

Another sensitive point in the evaluation is the employee’s conduct. Here is as good as everything possible, it can quite in the formulations of the employer’s reference hidden references to alcohol on the job (eg: through his sociability he contributed to the improvement of the working atmosphere) or sexual contacts in the company (eg: He/she always showed empathy for the needs of the male/female workforce) must be present. In addition, hidden references to works council or trade union activities (e.g.: He ze dedicated commitment to his or her colleagues) or chattiness (e.g: communicative nature/desired interlocutor) should be found. Here it is worth taking a very close look.

The reason for leaving (e.g: Leaves the company by mutual agreement/at own request/for private reasons at..) may not be included without the will of the coworker (regional labor court Duesseldorf, judgement of 22. August 1988- LAGE§ 630 BGB, no. 4). Particularly in the case of extraordinary notices of termination or termination agreements, one should consider whether it would not be better to reject such a formula.

The reference usually ends with a closing formula. Ideally, the employer regrets the employee’s departure, thanks him or her for his or her work and wishes him or her good luck in his or her future career and private future further only the best. These formulations are suitable for either confirming or relativizing the previous statements. If the closing formula contradicts the previous evaluation, the employee can at best demand a reference without a closing formula, because he has no legal claim to such a formula.

The reference guide: What to bear in mind

Here are some tips from our practical experience that should be observed when dealing with job references.

  • Always demand qualified Job reference. You are entitled to! In contrast to a simple Job reference also says something here about your performance and behavior.
  • Pay attention to the form of the certificate: A4 and unperforated. Creases are harmless, as long as they are not visible when copying. The boss (not the secretary)!) should have signed personally and on business paper (Federal Labor Court, 5 AZR 182/92).
  • How long is your reference? If you have been employed in the company for 15 years and only receive half a page? Then usually something is wrong. Conversely, however, references that are too long can also often be interpreted negatively.
  • Content: Read through the reference. Get stuck? Whenever it was "bumpy If the performance of an employee is not good enough, it is worthwhile to take a second look.
  • If there is a reason for dismissal in the reference? Go „at own request" or about „by mutual agreement"? The latter indicates a contractual settlement.
  • What do they want you to say? „All the best? Personal? Professional? Here, subtleties can determine whether the new boss reads what impression you made. For example, the following formulation is optimal: "We thank Mr. / Ms. Mustermann for the always outstanding Cooperation and Regret it very much, to lose him/her as an employee. For his/her further career and life path we wish him/her all the best and also good luck furthermore.“
  • The employment relationship was terminated by a settlement? Record the grade in comparison. The employer is bound to.
  • Your new boss might ask. So talk to your former employer again. You have a right to have him praise you in accordance with the contents of the reference (BAG, 05.08.1976- 3 AZR 491/75), make it clear to him however, what he may say- and above all: What not!
  • The date of issue should be the last day of employment, even if it is a Sunday or public holiday. An earlier or later date, on the other hand, may indicate problems. If the employee does not request the reference until after the end of the employment relationship, however, he or she has no claim to backdating. Therefore, you should request your employer’s reference at an early stage!

Decision of the BAG: "Satisfactory is solid

The judges were of the opinion that her reference should be rated at least "good" is to be evaluated, because a Two would correspond to the common practice of employers. Statistically, there would be so few references with "satisfactory" or worse, that a Three would be tantamount to a negative judgment.
The BAG has now overturned this decision and followed its previous case law. The labor court judges clarified that the grade "satisfactory" is not an adequate reference for an average performance would be appropriate- no matter how often it is awarded.

Nevertheless, the practice of awarding certificates has changed: Whereas a "satisfactory" used to be considered as a solid performance and was still awarded comparatively frequently, today there are only in ca. 15 percent of all cases of dismissal have a grade worse than "good". This is mainly due to the uncertainty of employers. Since a landmark ruling by the Federal Court of Justice in 1963 (26. November 1963, Az.VI ZR 221/62), employers are obligated not to unnecessarily stand in the way of the career of the terminated employee. According to the federal judges at the time, this also includes a qualified reference. As a result, there were almost only "good" ones left and "very good Testimonials. There developed a regular Report card code to accommodate finer points in the final papers; the actual grade has been pushed into the background. The latest ruling of the BAG could now lead to this shift being put into perspective again and to a more frequent use of "satisfactory" is awarded.

What does this mean for you? If in the future your interim report or employer’s reference states that you were "always to our satisfaction have worked, then their performance corresponds to the average. If you would like your reference to say something about "good performance", please contact your former employer or "always to our full Satisfaction" you must prove that you deserve this rating.

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