Work Certificate: an overview

To give this important document all the attention it deserves, we have drawn up a quick overview of its content.

Which type of certificate? When?

Article 330a of the Swiss code of obligations states that:

"The worker may at any time request from the employer a certificate showing the nature and duration of the employment relationship as well as the quality of his work and conduct."

There are two types of work certificates: the (final) work certificate that is handed at the end of the work relationship and the intermediary work certificate that can be requested at any time, for example when moving to another position within the company or in case of a change in hierarchy. The latter type of certificate only states the start date since the employee remains in the same company.

Basic components of the work certificate

A work certificate must include the following information:

  • the corporate name of the company issuing the work certificate

  • a title: "Work Certificate" or "Intermediary Work Certificate"

  • your first name, last name, birth date and maybe your place of origin and nationality

  • your position within the company and your percentage of activity

  • the duration of the work contract (start date and end date)

  • your main tasks and the specific projects you have been in charge of

  • a qualitative assessment of your work, skills and conduct

  • the reason why the work certificate was issued

  • a conclusion in which the author thanks you and wishes you well and which may include particular clauses such as a confidentiality clause or a non-competition clause

  • the issue date of the document

  • the signature of your immediate superior, the head of human resources or the CEO, according to the internal rules of the company

The content

The work certificate must unequivocally reflect reality and must not be subject to interpretation. If the content does not match reality or if it lacks information, you have the right to ask for modifications as long as they are justified.

For example:

  • if the certificate contains inaccuracies

  • if it describes your field of activity in an incomplete way

  • if it contains a mistake, for example in your job description

  • if an assertion could be detrimental to you

  • if some of the wording is ambiguous

However, please note that a work certificate should not be too indulgent, particularly in case of serious misconduct.

Standard expression and codes

We sometimes hear that work certificates can be "coded" or "encrypted". This is due to the fact that human resources professionals use standard wordings to express their degree of satisfaction on your performance or conduct, or even to specify the nature of the termination of the work contract. However, keep in mind that most people who write work certificates are not necessarily well-versed in this exercise and might not know these "codes". In addition, the author of a work certificate would be well advised not to use coded expressions because they cannot be sure that the person reading the certificate will have the same keys of interpretation. In any case, the level of satisfaction of the employer is primarily expressed in the adjectives chosen or the adverbs used to express degree (quite, often, very…) or intensity (exceedingly, extremely, perfectly…).

Examples of typical phrases

General assessment of your work

Average: He/She always carried out his/her duties to our satisfaction = average but consistent results

Good: He/She always carried out his/her duties to our complete satisfaction = good and consistent results

Very good: He/She always carried out his/her duties to our fullest satisfaction = very good results

Reason for issuing the work certificate

The employee resigns: It is with great regret that we see him/her leave.

The employee is laid off: He/She leaves the company.

The employee is laid off because the company is restructuring: His/Her position was cut for restructuring purposes.