Without a bend, with a greeting?: These standards apply to the job reference

Job references are still an important part of job applications.

Without a bend, with a greeting?: These standards apply to the job reference

Job references are still an important part of job applications. However, not every certificate is suitable as a figurehead. A legal expert explains which minimum requirements apply.

Whether form or content: Labor courts have to deal with disputes about references again and again. But what is actually mandatory when it comes to certificates, what is optional and what is not permitted at all? André Niedostadek, Professor of Business, Labor and Social Law at the Harz University of Applied Sciences, explains common misconceptions in an interview.

Mr. Niedostadek, what does the job reference actually have to say at least?

André Niedostadek: A certificate must contain at least information on the duration and type of activity, i.e. the start of employment and, if applicable, the professional stages with a description of the tasks. It's called a simple testimony.

But there is usually more in a certificate. Other aspects include performance, such as resilience or independence. On the other hand, this includes behavior, for example towards superiors, colleagues or business partners. One speaks here of a qualified certificate.

Such a certificate is therefore much more detailed, more informative and therefore more meaningful. Employees regularly use it as an application document and potential future employers use it as a basis for personnel decisions. In practice, a typical structure of a certificate has become established.

Does the certificate also have to meet certain formal criteria?

Clear yes! In fact, surprisingly, disputes about a certificate are not all about the content, but also about the form. A certificate must first be prepared in writing. This means that it cannot be sent electronically by e-mail. If a company uses its own company letterhead, it must also use it for the certificate.

The certificate must be signed in order to meet the formal requirements. A scanned signature is not enough. It should go without saying that a certificate has to look clean and neat.

To show the variety of questions that concern the case law: Is it actually allowed to fold a certificate, for example to send it? Yes, the Federal Labor Court decided a long time ago. In any case, as long as the crease is not noticeable when making copies.

What is at the end of the job reference?

Job references usually end with a so-called closing formula. In it, the employer expresses his regret about the end of the employment relationship, thanks him for the work he has done and at the same time combines this with good wishes for the future, both professionally and privately.

However, the specific formulations can differ enormously. It is something else, for example, whether one regrets the departure, regrets it very much or regrets it extremely. The effect of the closing formula can therefore be immense and influence professional advancement.

When it is often said that the first impression is decisive, it is sometimes the other way around when it comes to references: there is something exciting not at the beginning, but at the end. That's why a good closing formula is also interesting for former employees, as it enhances the reference.

Now comes the but: Employees cannot demand that a job reference contain a closing formula at all. The Federal Labor Court emphasized this again in a very recent decision at the beginning of the year, thereby confirming its previous case law. Employers can therefore completely dispense with a closing formula.

The court left it open, however, whether this also applies if the employer uses standard closing formulas in the references he has issued.

By when does the certificate have to be submitted?

The certificate becomes due when the employment relationship ends. It must then be issued promptly, which is also unproblematic in many companies. Because the certificate is always created individually and because of the formulation is quite demanding, you will have to allow some processing time. Two weeks are considered quite reasonable.

Employers shouldn't put it off too long either. This can oblige you to pay damages, even if the hurdles for doing so are quite high. Conversely, employees should not wait too long to request a reference. If you don't take care of it, you risk losing your right to a certificate. The statute of limitations is usually three years.

Do I have to formulate my certificate myself if my employer requests it?

The certificate is to be issued by the employer, who is responsible for the correctness of the certificate to a future new employer. However, employees can certainly create a draft themselves. Whether that always makes sense, however, is another matter, precisely because individual formulations can certainly represent a tightrope act.

It is recommended that employers and employees discuss a draft together before the final version in order to prevent any misunderstandings and disputes. At the very least, employees should have a draft checked by a competent third party.

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