Service testimonial – decreasing relevance and secret codes

Upon termination of employment, you are entitled to a certificate of employment. Your employer must provide this document according to section 39 para. 1 Employee Act to be issued in the course of termination of employment. While the relevance has slightly decreased in Austria in recent years, there are still many question marks as to what the phrases in the service certificate actually mean. Because negative wording is prohibited in it – which has led to various secret codes.

Service certificate - secret codes

How relevant is the employer's reference?

It is important for prospective employers to know how a potential employee has performed in previous employment relationships. Especially in management positions, service certificates thus have quite high importance.

With modern employers, however, less and less value is being placed on this cloistered final report. The reason is that former employers rarely want to put a stone in the path of their ex-employees. In addition, it can hardly be checked whether the reference was not even written by the employee himself (in agreement with the employer).

From an employer's point of view, it would be much more important to include credible references (z.B. to be obtained by calls from people named by an applicant). Internationally, this procedure is quite common.

Important for you: Despite the decreasing relevance, you should always insist on the issuance of a reference.

Who is entitled to the document

If an employment relationship is terminated, an employee is entitled to a service reference in any case. However, this must be explicitly requested. The employer is then obligated to issue at least a simple "job reference". Interim references can also be requested by the employee. Independent contractors have no entitlement.

Contents and structure of a service certificate

The law (§ 39 para. 1 Employees Act) provides that the following information shall be present in the qualified service certificate:

Element Content
Headline Shows what the reference is to (in this case, the service or interim reference)
Entry rate Essential data about the employee (name, date of birth, position title, the beginning and end of the employment relationship)
Position and task description Hierarchical level, tasks of the employee, responsibility –
in the case of smaller companies, a description of the organization may also be attached (industry, size, foreign branches)
Assessment of performance resp. of success Work motivation, work ability, work results
Summary assessment (overall satisfaction with the employee)
Assessment of social behavior Dealing with colleagues, employees and superiors, dealing with customers and guests
Final sentence Shows how much the organization regrets the employee's departure and by whom exactly the employment relationship was terminated

The activities must be listed and described in such a way that the reader can get a clear picture of the employee's scope of work. The formulation and structure, to the extent they are within legal requirements, are the responsibility of the employer.

Prohibited are both any content that could hinder the employee in his further job search. It is also not permitted to mention functions as a representative of interests within a trade union or works council. In addition, the cause of termination of employment must not be mentioned.

Information about salary is of course not included in a service reference.

Codes in the service report

Although the wording of service references must be positive, this does not mean that the relevance is positive without exception. If your reference seems strange, you can have it checked by the Chamber of Labor, for example.

The most famous phrases of the "service report secret language":

Secret code Translation
Superlatives (z. B. to the fullest satisfaction) positive testimony
The employee has always made an effort. The employee has made an effort, but nothing has come of it.
The employee has put all his effort into the project Y. The employee has made an effort only in this project, nowhere else.
The employee has made use of the following within the scope of his or her abilities. The competences of the employee were limited.
The employee has always contributed to the team as an integrative personality with good communication skills. The employee had no time to work because of all the chatting.
The employee contributed to a good working atmosphere by being sociable. The employee gossips a lot and constantly.
The employee has properly completed the work assigned to him or her. The employee showed little initiative.
The employee was a very demanding and critical employee. The employee was difficult and criticized his superiors.
The employee had expertise and showed great self-confidence. The employee has continuously intervened.
The employee was able to work independently according to given guidelines. The employee was only able to work according to precise instructions, otherwise he was dependent on others.
The employee was always interested and enthusiastic in his work. The employee was euphoric, but nothing more happened.
The employee particularly championed the interests of the workforce. The employee does not put up with everything.

Important details on secret codes:

  • If certain areas are omitted, z. B. the relationship with the employer, the reader can assume that something was wrong with it.
  • To indicate a negative rating, positive minor points can be moved up in order. The important issues are only briefly mentioned.
  • If positive mentions are limited in time or to a specific project, it means that the employer was satisfied just here.
  • If the service reference is clearly terse, this expresses the employer's lack of appreciation for the employee.

Service reference templates

There are numerous templates for service references on the web. Here are three free documents to download from Austrian websites:

Dissatisfied with the status quo?

If you are not satisfied with your reference or if you are not satisfied with your reference. the content or formal requirements are not met, you may demand a correctly issued and qualified service reference from your (former) employer. You have this right through some collective agreements even up to 30 years retroactively.

You can provide your (former) employer with a draft of your desired reference, but the employer is not obliged to comply with it.

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