What is a letter of reference?

On the termination of employment, you have a right to obtain written references from the employer showing the duration of your employment and the quality of your duties. You can also ask for a statement of the reason for terminating the employment and an assessment on your competence and conduct. You should always remember to ask for references, as it is an important document when applying for a new job.

What information does the reference letter contain?

A brief reference contains information on the total duration of the employment as well as on the work duties.

An extended reference contains the same information as the brief reference and in addition the reason for the termination of the employment relationship as well as an assessment of the employee’s working skills and behaviour. The employer is allowed to give an extended reference only on the employee’s express request.

A reference must not include anything that is intended to convey other information on the employee than what the normal perusal of the reference suggests. No information on the employee’s sick leaves or family leaves may be recorded in the references. If the reference letter has information recorded that is against the law or incorrect, the employer must issue a new, amended reference.

A corrected reference must also be given in case the employer has given the employee an extended reference, although the employee has not requested it. If the employee has requested an extended reference with assessment, the employee has no right to demand changing the assessment made of him/her. The employer may, however, end up in liability for damages if the incorrect assessment will cause harm to the employee.

When is it mandatory to provide a reference?

The employer is required to provide a certificate of employment once the employment ends, if the employee requests it. Hence, references are not given automatically. You may request references in oral or written form.

The employer is only obliged to provide employees with references on termination of the employment. However, the employer may give references on request even as the employment is ongoing, although there is no such obligation. This type of reference is called a temporary letter of reference.

10 years’ term

The employer is required to provide the employee with a certificate of employment within 10 years of termination of the employment relationship. If more than 10 years have elapsed from termination of the employment relationship, a brief reference shall be given only if it does not cause the employer undue inconvenience. Subject to the same conditions, the employer shall issue a new certificate on request if the original has been lost or destroyed.

5 years’ term

Contrary to the above, an extended reference containing an assessment of the employee’s working skills and behaviour shall be requested within five years of termination of employment relationship.

What to do if you do not get a reference?

If, despite a request, you have not received a reference when the employment ends, you can contact the occupational safety and health authority. An occupational safety and health authority can oblige the employer to give a reference under threat of a penalty.

Failing to give a reference is a punishable act. The employer or its representative can be sentenced to a fine for infringement of the Employment Contracts Act.