Job reference

A reference is issued to the employee by the employer. It contains at least the type and duration of employment ("simple reference"), often also information on the employee’s performance and conduct ("qualified reference"). The second variant is an evaluation of the employee and his abilities.

An electronic reference is not valid according to § 109 GewO (trade regulations). Instead, it must be printed on company stationery with letterhead.

Almost every employee is entitled to a job reference. It must be clear, true and at the same time benevolent, that’s why codes have established themselves in the job reference. However, employees can have a job reference changed. The letter of reference is gaining more and more attention as an alternative to the reference.

Punctuality is in the reference. With a time tracking system like clocko:do you have an overview of when and how much your employees work.

Who is entitled to a reference?

If a permanent employment relationship is terminated, according to the law in § 109 GewO, then the employee has the right to a certificate. Employees include all salaried employees, including part-time employees, trainees, executives and interns. A fixed-term contract does not change the right to a reference. In the public sector, job references are regulated by the collective agreements. If desired, employees are entitled not only to a simple reference, but also to a qualified one.

It does not matter how the employment relationship was terminated or which party gave notice of termination. A termination agreement may include provisions on the employer’s reference.

According to § 16 BBiG trainees not only have a right: Here the employer is obliged to issue one.

Simple or qualified employer’s reference?

Simple employer’s reference

Here are only the data on type and duration of employment in it. The simple reference is more like a certificate about the employment relationship.

Qualified reference

This contains, in addition to the data, information about the performance and behavior of the employee. Typically, this information is broken down into work performance and social behavior. All statements in the qualified reference must be true and benevolent.

Job reference: What must be included?

In a reference only the truth may stand. At the same time it must be benevolent. The wording must be clear and understandable.

The reference is the professional business card of an employee, quasi an employee evaluation. On the one hand, the certificate provides evidence of activities; on the other hand, it can be used to convey (positive) performance appraisals. Therefore, the following points belong in the (qualified) reference in this order:

  • Heading
  • Name and date of birth of the employee
  • Period and title of the position
  • Description of the company
  • Description of the activity and tasks
  • Performance appraisal: readiness, aptitude and specialist knowledge, working methods, special work successes
  • Assessment of social behavior towards superiors, colleagues and customers
  • Termination statement, concluding formula with departure, thanks, regrets and wishes for the future (there is no right to this)
  • date, signature, stamp

The employer must write in the qualified reference thus an evaluation. For executives or managers, there is also an evaluation of the management style and a description of the team.

What other types of references are there?

Training certificate

At the end of his or her training, an employee is issued with a training reference. This includes something different from the usual certificate the following:

  • The type of training
  • The duration of employment in this framework
  • The goals to be achieved
  • The skills and knowledge acquired

Internship reference

Since interns are treated like normal employees, they also have the right to a reference at the end of their work. This can be a simple or a qualified certificate, and includes the same sections as other certificates.

Interim report

Employees can request an interim reference if they have a special reason for doing so. Such reasons may include looking for a new job, a transfer of operations, a change in direct supervisor, or applying for further training. By law, however, there is no right to an interim report. Nevertheless, employers have had to issue one in many disputes if the employee has a legitimate interest in doing so. There may be written regulations on interim references in collective agreements.

What is prohibited in the reference?

  • Information that could disadvantage the employee must not be included. This includes, for example, religious or party affiliations as well as trade union membership.
  • Statements about illnesses of the employee are also prohibited.
  • False assertions are prohibited. Therefore, certificates that are written very positively as a favor are not legally allowed either.
  • The reference must be in a clearly understandable form. It must not contain any wording that aims to make a statement that is not evident from the wording.
  • In addition, the wording of the reference must be positive, the law says "favorable".
  • The reference assesses the employment relationship during the entire period of employment. Therefore, it is forbidden to emphasize individual mistakes.
  • References must be prepared individually and must not be the same for all employees.
  • Spelling and grammatical errors should be corrected.

What codes are there in the job reference?

On the one hand, a reference must be true; on the other hand, it may only be an benevolent formulations contain. Due to this legal requirement, wording has become commonplace over time, behind which codes are hidden. These read positively at first glance, but there are other messages hidden behind them.

The individual codes and so-called secret languages lead to much confusion and a lively search on the Internet for meanings. Therefore, employers should be clear about what they write. However, there is no fixed, official code in that sense.

Job reference grades

are included in the testimonial codes Job reference grades. These resemble school grades from "very good" to "sufficient. The wording of the individual grades often looks like this:

  • Very good: We regret his departure very much and thank him for always very good Achievements. We wish him all the best in his future career and life, and continued success.
  • Good: We regret his departure and thank him for the always good Achievements. We wish him all the best for his future career and life and furthermore Success.
  • Satisfactory: We regret his departure and thank him for the good Accomplishments. We wish him all the best for his future career and life Success.
  • SufficientWe thank him for his cooperation. We wish him all the best for the future.

Superlative always indicate a very good reference: always faultless, to our complete satisfaction, with the utmost care, in the shortest possible time, clearly above-average performance.

Against it speak Formulations without further description for a bad evaluation. "She completed her tasks" indicates that she did so, but not successfully.

The grading scale is also used in the last sentences of the reference Thanks and wishes for the future Application. This summarizes the reference as a whole and is thus a clear indication of the employee’s performance. No matter what is written before:

  • Very goodWe are very sorry to see him leave and thank him for his always very good performance. We wish him all the best in his future career and life and continued success.
  • GoodWe regret his departure and thank him for his consistently good performance. We wish him all the best and continued success in his future career and life.
  • SatisfactoryWe regret his departure and thank him for his good performance. We wish him all the best and success on the further professional and life path.
  • Sufficient: We thank him for his cooperation. We wish him all the best for the future.

References to negative evaluations

Missing will in the reference something omitted, this indicates negative evaluations. Since the testimony must be benevolent, it can be concluded from non-existent sentences that these have turned out negatively and therefore have not been included. However, this attracts attention with typical building blocks that are expected and can be evaluated negatively. This in turn is not allowed.

Expressions that Nothing to do with performance, skills or conduct have, often indicate something negative. A refreshing manner indicates a troublesome colleague. Who represents his opinion does not accept criticism. Conviviality and improvement of the working atmosphere are a code for alcohol consumption at work. And sociability does not indicate success in doing so. Employers should refrain from using such codes if possible. Through the Internet they are widely known and thus lead to disputes. In addition, they do not necessarily testify to the seriousness of the company and may contradict the requirement of clarity.

Things that go without saying like punctuality are emphasized when there is nothing positive to report otherwise.

Do employers have to change job references if requested?

Employees can contact the employer if they wish to have changes made to their references. In this case, the employer must issue at least an average job reference (Satisfactory), if he cannot prove otherwise, and delete unauthorized formulations.

Possibly an employer has also unintentionally formulated a certain sentence in such a way that it stands out. This can be corrected in a correction.

Example of a job reference

Jonas has quit his job and his boss Lara is actually happy about it. He never really cooperated and always railed against his superiors. In his reference, Lara therefore writes that she regrets his departure and thanks him for his good performance – she thus rates him as "satisfactory". In addition, she wants to warn Jonas’s future employers about his rebellious nature, because she struggled a lot with him. She writes "One learns to deal with one’s different nature sometime."

But Jonas does not put up with such a formulation. Lara has not directly written what bothers her, but the sentence is still to be interpreted negatively. One cannot recognize a benevolent ulterior motive here. Lara has to change the reference at Jonas’ request and refrain from stating her true impression directly.

Who must write the employer’s reference?

The employer must write the reference. This must be a superior of the employee. This should know the coworker and be able to estimate.

"Can you formulate the job reference for yourself?"
As the employer is obliged to issue the reference, he is also responsible for its content. If an employee writes untrue things about himself, the employer confirms this with his signature.

When employees leave, new ones often have to be hired for their positions. But how to find the right candidates?

Letter of reference: Is it an alternative to a job reference?

The reference letter is a letter of recommendation from the employer for the employee. It is issued voluntarily and is not subject to any set rules. This is why a reference goes over well with a potential new employer. If someone has received such a letter from his boss, this boss was most likely satisfied with the employee’s performance.

A reference letter should mention the names of both parties, as well as their employment relationship. Furthermore, the letter then contains the positive achievements of the employee as well as a (positive) description of the personality. Do not forget the date and signature.

Since a reference must be benevolent, the reference letter is an interesting alternative without specifications. If an employee can get a positive reference letter, the new potential employer is sure that it is really meant seriously.

Supervisors can also make a reference about someone over the phone. A potential new employer may already be calling the applicant’s current boss.

What is the job reference definition in Austria?

In this case, the reference is called a service reference. At the end of the employment relationship, the employee must request this, then he must also get it issued. However, this is only a simple testimony. A qualified reference can be issued voluntarily by the employer. An interim reference can be requested without reason, but at the employee’s own expense.

What applies to the employer’s reference in Switzerland?

In Switzerland, every employee has the right to a qualified reference at any time, including an assessment of performance and social conduct. However, the employee may also wish to receive only a simple reference letter.

Katharina Bensch

Katharina Bensch is the clocko:do expert for topics related to everyday work life.
With certified expertise in legal employment topics and diverse experience as an editor, she oversees the clocko:do info portal.

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