Every Employee has by law the right to a employer’s reference, if he leaves the company in which he was previously employed. The employer’s reference must be in written form and at the same time fulfill two important conditions.
Differences are also made between job references for employees and for top managers. These vary, among other things, in the scope and in the wording chosen. Read now what is important in the reference for employees and members of the management team.
Table of contents: What you can expect in this article
Legal regulations concerning the employer’s reference
For the issue of a reference it is irrelevant whether the departure from the company is voluntary or due to a termination on the part of the employer. In § 109 para. 2 of Trade regulations the right to a reference is regulated.
This must correspond to the truth, but should also be benevolent. The employee must thus have the chance to apply for a job in another company. Formulations or remarks containing a negative statement about the employee may not be included in the Certificate occur.
An open criticism by the employer is therefore not permissible. The problem is, however, that such criticism still appears in the reference – well packaged in euphonious words. An example of wording in the secret language of job references:
Mr. Meier has good empathy towards the workforce.
That sounds good? But in the language of job references, it means nothing more than that Mr. Meier liked to flirt – work often came up short here. Another example:
Mr. Schmidt stood out due to his sociability, which clearly improved the working atmosphere.
This is also not a sentence to be proud of. Because it means that Mr. Schmidt liked to indulge in one or the other schnapps during working hours.
Your former boss wishes you in conclusion in the work reference All the best and good health? This Final formula is not meant nicely, because it gives another employer with it to understand that you are often ill.
With all these formulations also the legal requirement is very stretchable, it comes again and again to disputes before the industrial tribunals, because an employee means, by its reference badly to have been judged, the employer however this may not see. Important Limitation periodThree years after the end of the employment relationship, the right to a reference ends.
The usual form is the qualified reference: Here you will find information about your position in the company, the usual tasks and there is an evaluation of social behavior and performance. (#01)
Different forms of the certificate
There are three different forms that can be used for a job reference. Thus, the employer may issue the simple job reference, in which not much more than the type and duration of activity in the company can be found.
Usual is that Qualified job reference: Here you will find information about your position in the company, the usual tasks and there is an assessment of social behavior and performance.
If the previous supervisor changes or there is another valid reason, you can also request an interim reference. This can be issued as a simple or qualified variant. An interim report can even be positive later: If the cooperation does not end peacefully, very few employers deviate massively from the previously issued good reference. So you have the chance to get a positive reference even after a dispute.
Common secret codes in the employer’s reference (video)
Who deals with the language of the employer’s references, comes quickly to the conclusion that it must be a secret code here. That is also not so wrong, however with some specialized knowledge each statement can be examined for its truth content.
The wording speaks for a very good performance:
Ms. A has always worked to our complete satisfaction. Here, the "greatest or utmost satisfaction" can also be addressed.
- Good is the performance, if only the fullest satisfaction is mentioned. The employee lies here between a 1 and a 2, if school grades would be used as a basis.
- Those who have always worked to the fullest satisfaction receive the grade 2. Partly this formulation is used however already for the note 3, whereby the "fully" is often also renounced.
- With the note 4 you close your employer-employee relationship, if you worked to the satisfaction. However, if the employer was only satisfied overall or if you worked to the satisfaction of the employer on the whole, you will only receive a grade of 5.
Video: What grade is considered average in a job reference? | WBS law firm
Falsify job reference: Caution criminal offense!
Basically all these formulations do not sound bad at all – are it however in the mentioned gradations up to the first two notes. It is not uncommon for this to result in litigation. Important: Changes may never be made by the employee! A job reference is considered an important document, a certificate of. Anyone who falsifies this commits a criminal offense. Termination without notice and a complaint can be the consequences.
Labor law and references
Labor law states that employer’s references must be written in such a way that employees are certified as having at least a good performance, i.e. a grade of 2. If the references are worse, the employer must be able to justify this. The employee cannot be expected to provide the reason why he belongs to the worse rated group, which comprises only about 13.4 percent of the employees and their references. This ruled the Berlin Labor Court in his judgment with the File number 28 Ca 18230/11.
In addition, the reference should not contain anything that is self-evident. The background: Who emphasizes self-evident tasks or achievements particularly, suggests thereby that the employee was just not able to furnish a better achievement than the usual one.
Hidden references in the reference: No Go !
Hidden hints may not be found in job references. Whoever offers the future employer to be available for inquiries about the performance of the former employee, thereby indirectly informs the latter that not everything was mentioned in the reference and that the performance of the person in question was actually worse than described.
Significant absenteeism: may be mentioned
Mention may be made, however, the parental leave taken, because "Considerable downtime" may be called. This is especially interesting for those industries where speed and dynamism are important. This gives the future employer the opportunity to assess whether the applicant’s specialist knowledge is or can be up to date.
Thanks and wishes in the closing formula
In addition Federal Labor Court decided that the employer does not necessarily have to thank the employee for the cooperation. It is also not necessary to wish him all the best, as the reference must only contain information on performance and conduct.
Video: Zibb – Job reference – Every word is important
On the structure of the reference
The following points must be met by the employer’s reference:
The job reference is written and printed out on paper and handed over to the employee. Transmission by e-mail or writing by hand is not permitted. Clean company paper is used for this, the employee has a right to printouts that are not creased and free of stains.
- Individuality of the job reference
Each employee must receive a personal and individual reference. If the employee suspects that the reference was only copied, he must prove this, but then he has the right to demand a rewrite.
- Personal data of the employee
The personal details in the job reference must be correct. In addition, the period of activity and the activities carried out must be listed precisely. The times when the employer was on vacation or when he was absent due to illness are not mentioned. If the job references are issued for executives, an increase in performance should be recognizable in the description of position and duties. It is not about promotion, but about improving the success of the company.
- Closing sentence and closing formula
A Final sentence can, but does not have to be brought in. The employer can check with the employee in the Closing phrase thank for its achievements, but is not obliged to do so. He also does not have to wish him further success or regret the departure.
The reference is signed by the personnel manager. In the case of references for members of the board of directors, the chairman of the supervisory board signs; in the case of references for managing directors, a shareholder or a representative of the same signs the reference.
- Reason for termination
The employee must expressly agree if the reason for leaving the company is to be mentioned in the reference.
Job reference: Reworking or rewriting
If essential points that apply to the form and content of the job reference have not been complied with, you are entitled to demand that they be rectified or rewritten. An incomplete or very bad reference – which it already is if it does not evaluate the performance with the grade 2 anymore – can be rejected. Contradictory formulations or orthographic errors are also reasons for a new reference.
Job reference: Objective or subjective?
It is simply not possible to make an assessment of performance completely objective. This is especially true when a qualifying reference is issued. It is even a matter of obtaining a subjective assessment. However, some assessments are then deliberately benevolent or complaisant. The background is that many employers want to avoid lawsuits before the labor court.
If the employee finds that the reference is bursting with glowing descriptions and top marks are awarded in all areas, it no longer seems credible. The future employer cannot form a picture of the applicant from such a reference. Therefore, make absolutely sure that the language used is balanced.
Deadline: You wish to have the certificate corrected? Then address your employer within a period of five to 15 months. After that, your right to a change expires.
Video: Are employees entitled to a good reference?? | Works Council Video
References for the management level
Very special regulations apply to the issuing of references for members of the management level. The simple samples, which can be used on the Internet for normal references, are not applicable here as a rule.
If, for example, supervisory boards or the owner of a company deign to praise an outgoing manager beyond all measure, this usually means that the job reference is not worth much. The words used here do not really matter, since they only tell the untruth about the performance shown and the benefit of the person concerned for the company.
Three points are important for job references of top managers:
- Assessment of competencies
What is important here is how the entrepreneurial and strategic competencies are assessed. If this is not addressed, it can be assumed that the person in question neither thinks in a particularly innovative way nor was of any use to the company at all.
- Assessment of leadership behavior
Behavior toward other management members and subordinate employees is evaluated here. If this is not addressed in the reference, it means nothing more than that the person in question has no or only low social competence.
- Reason for the change
The reason why the former management member wants a career change should be comprehensible and logical. New challenges or a strategic change in the company that is not desired can be possible reasons. If no reason is given, it means that the person leaving probably had to be fired because he is absolutely useless.
By law, every employee has the right to a reference when he or she leaves the company in which he or she has been employed up to now. The reference must be in written form and at the same time meet two important conditions. (#02)
What is not mentioned
For (former) members of the management of a company, it is often more important what is not mentioned in the reference than what is written in it at the end. Apparent insignificances and trivialities get the full attention of the headhunter. Has the reference been printed on the company stationery which is always used? Or did the chairman of the supervisory board use his private stationery? If the latter is the case, then a more credible reference is to be assumed.
Platitudes, Personal words, Reinstatement
This also applies to the achievements presented in the job reference. If these are described rather soberly and neutrally and the writer loses himself in phrases? This is not good and means nothing more than that the reference is bad. Personal words, an appreciation of the cooperation and past performance as well as the possibility to ask for references are incomparably better contents for a manager’s job reference.
Perhaps it is also emphasized that the person in question would be hired again at any time? This is of course also very positive. It is always true that the lack of a personal note in the reference indicates insufficient performance.
Scope of the reference
The scope of the reference is also taken into account. If this is very small, detailed performance descriptions can hardly be present here. Less than half a page is therefore hardly useful. A meaningful appraisal should not be more than two pages long. This means that a length of between one and two pages is ideal for the reference. If the reference is too long, it is often assumed that the manager himself has been busy writing his reference. Apparently he is narcissistically inclined and found no end in describing himself and his achievements ..
However, this point also applies to references issued to normal employees. These should also be no longer than two pages, although it certainly also depends on how long the person in question had been with the company when the reference was issued. If you have only been employed by the company for half a year, you can hardly expect a two-page evaluation.
However, those who have worked in the company for many years should receive a more comprehensive and detailed reference. However, the mere length of the reference is no reason to sue for a change at the labor court, as long as all necessary information is included and the reference covers at least half a page.
Photo credits:©Shutterstock cover image: pathdoc -#01: Antonio Guillem -#02: Antonio Guillem
About the author
Marius Beilhammer, born 1969, studied journalism in Bamberg. He has been writing for technical magazines for many years and also works as a freelance author on a wide range of market and business topics. As a Franconian cheerful nature, he always finds the balance in his work between lightness and comprehensive know-how through his pronounced affinity for technology.