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All employees are entitled to a reference at the end of an employment relationship. You should also seek to obtain an interim reference if your line manager changes. Employees can also request an interim reference when they change jobs within the same company. References and interim references must both be truthful and benevolent.

What should a reference contain, and what not?

Information that must be included

  • Identity of the employee and employer
  • Date of commencement and end of an employment relationship
  • List of the employee’s most important tasks
  • Meaningful evaluation of employee performance
  • Employer’s legally valid signature and date of issue

Formal requirements

  • Word processed on good quality paper
  • Linguistic correctness
  • Professional layout (no deletions, etc.).

Things to look out for

  • Should not include non-work-related information.
  • Information must be accurate.
  • One-off negative incidents should not be indicated.
  • Repeated dysfunction in teamwork and disturbances in the work sequence, for which the employee was demonstrably solely responsible, should not be concealed.
  • Grounds for leaving should only be indicated if it shows appreciation of the employee’s work.
  • Illness may only be mentioned if it had a significant impact on the employee’s performance or was an objective reason for terminating the employment relationship.
  • Risk behaviour that a new employer should know about must be indicated (such as a professional driver’s drinking problem).
  • No ambiguous statements or coded wording which are couched in an ostensibly neutral and positive way, but convey a negative message to those initiated (this is contrary to the principle of good faith).