Employment is one of the things that bring the uttermost joy to families everywhere. Along with the many other things that can help you find a better job is a good review, recommendation or reference letter from your previous employer(s). Did you know that you don’t always need a reference letter and if such letter is negative, you can demand a certificate of employment, which must not, per the Employment Act, be negative. So, a reference letter is a letter whose contents are determined by an employer but the particulars of a certificate of employment are prescribed by law.
Is it a right or privilege?
A reference letter is optional whilst a certificate of employment is a right to an ex-employee. In other words, one needs to carefully choose whether they need a reference letter or a certificate of employment. In instances where the relationship between an employer and an employee is sour, the employer is likely to issue an adverse reference letter. In such cases, the employee has legal recourse, i.e., they can simply request for a certificate of employment which must always be positive, as enunciated below.
Enter the Employment Act
Section 24(1) of the Employment Act states that “upon the termination of a contract of employment, the employee may require his employer to deliver to him a certificate specifying the dates of the employee’s engagement and of the termination of the contract of employment and the type or types of work on which the employee has been engaged”. This section states that as a former employee, you have the right to seek a certificate of employment. This will most certainly give your potential employer a depiction of your skill and knowledge. Subsection 2 of the said section continues to state that “a certificate such as is referred to in subsection (1) shall contain nothing unfavourable to the employee”. This simply means that employers cannot write anything foul or adverse about their previous employee(s) in the said certificate. Again, did you know this?
The said section continues to state that failure to comply with the previous provision will most certainly put employers in hot soup, figuratively that is. Failure to comply will make you liable to “a fine not exceeding P1 000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both”. This is something that can be easily avoided as it would not only impact the day to day running of the employer’s business, but it will also taint or tarnish their image and negatively impact their stake in the market.
Therefore, for whatever reason that may be behind an employee’s departure from any employer and to seek employment elsewhere, it is every employer’s obligation to provide them with a favourable certificate of employment. Lastly, any employee who receives a negative reference letter can simply request a certificate of employment, which only states the dates of employment and termination as well as the job they were engaged for; nothing negative. That’s the difference between a reference letter and a certificate of employment. Potential employers must also be cautious when recruiting a new employee as a certificate of employment simply points to the fact that the prospective employee could have received a negative reference letter, had they sought for one. As such, seeking further information from the prospective employee’s former employers through other means is recommended.
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