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I was a temporary employee for three months, and I recently signed a one year contract with the company where I am currently employed at. Now after signing the contract, the company wants my original degree certificate as a safety insurance, just to make sure that I will comply with the company rules. I am worried about leaving my original documents with them because they can be misplaced, damaged or be used to blackmail me in some ways.

They are prepared to withhold my next pay check until I submit my original documents. There was nothing in the contract that said I have to do this.

Question: Is it the norm in other countries and other companies? Should I leave my original documents with the company?

A close friend of mine just told me that he is in a similar situation. He has signed a 3 year contract with his company and they have already taken his passport and degree certificate. By the way, he works in Abu Dhabi, and I work in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Update: Today I had a meeting with the company CEO, it seems that I will have to leave my documents with the company if I want to continue with my job. But the company will sign a legal document which says that at the time of my departure from the company, the documents will be returned to me in their original condition assuming that I follow the procedure for leaving the company mentioned in the employment contract.

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If you are currently employed with them, did they ask you to do it when you were first hired as well? Or is this a new request due to the new contract? –  jmac Apr 4 at 7:21
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Some comments removed. Please use comments to request clarification or improve the question. To answer the question, please post an answer. For other discussion, please use The Workplace Chat. –  Jim Apr 4 at 15:12
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@Zindarod Please let us know what the eventual outcome of this situation is. It's very important for future readers. –  Radu Murzea Apr 4 at 15:25
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Could someone explain what a "degree certificate" is, for those of us from educational systems which don't use that term? –  keshlam Apr 7 at 0:20

11 Answers 11

up vote 120 down vote accepted

I've never heard of this in the UK and I absolutely wouldn't allow it. When they say insurance, it rather sounds like blackmail to me - are they going to destroy it if they deem you in breach of their rules? Honestly, the more I consider it the more outrageous, childish and abusive it seems.

To clarify, showing originals and providing copies is all perfectly normal and appropriate, but they're your property and should remain as such.

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Thats exactly what I thought. I am even prepared to give verified copies of my documents. I am a foreigner in the company where I work so if anything happens to my documents there are not many people who would listen to my side of the story. –  Zindarod Apr 4 at 7:22
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Never heard of this practice in the U.S. or Australia, either. Definitely would not go along with it. It also shows a significant degree of mistrust on the part of your employer; if they think they need to hold your credentials hostage to ensure you'll follow their rules, they either do not trust you or have some really outlandish rules. In either case, you probably don't want to work there. –  aroth Apr 4 at 8:24
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It is standard practice among traffickers to keep victim's passports, just sayin' –  bbozo Apr 4 at 13:31
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@Zindarod Illegal in The Netherlands. But you wrote your question 11 hours ago, have already placed comments below it, BUT STILL NOT ANSWERED the repeated question to tell us what country you're in. Edit your question! –  Jan Doggen Apr 4 at 18:23
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@Jan I can't imagine a single country where extortion and blackmail are actually legal, so it's regardless what country the OP is in. This is a huge red flag that something is afoot. I'd happily provide copies of my credentials to any employer, but the originals are yours. Don't let them talk you into it... false promises of "oh, we'd never do that" are worthless. –  SnakeDoc Apr 4 at 18:42

If the employer is telling you they will hold it for 'safety' or 'insurance' and it is not a statutory requirement, there is absolutely no valid reason that they would do it for noble purposes. The fact that they are threatening to withhold your pay unless you consent is an even stronger indication of a very bad situation.

Over all, be careful, it sounds like you are walking in to an awful situation where you will be taken advantage of.

If you don't need the job, consider leaving

I do not say this lightly.

Employment is supposed to be a mutually-beneficial agreement. They pay you for services rendered, and both parties should be happy with the agreement. Employers that try to go beyond that agreement to make you follow your end, they are typically up to no good. For instance:

  1. Employers threatening foreign workers with deportation and revocation of their visa if they quit (usually the visa actually belongs to the holder in most countries, so the consequence of ignoring it is fine, but the goal is to bully those ignorant of their rights in a foreign country where they may not speak the language)
  2. Employers 'holding' an employee's passport 'for safe keeping' (this is quite common in human trafficking cases where people are promised a legitimate job in another country and then are put in to indentured servitude without a passport or proper legal status making them depend on their employer for money to live on)

The point is that an employer should not need to use coercion or trickery to keep an employee. If the employer starts acting that way, they are likely to continue, and you should get out before you end up in a worse situation then you are already in.

If you do need the job, minimize potential harm

Keep sufficient savings to get a plane ticket home at any time (or make sure you have a way of getting that money no matter what happens). If you need to give them this official document, try contacting the school that issued the document, explain the situation, and ask if it is possible to get another copy in the worst case scenario.

Be very wary about any obligations your company has. If they, for instance, send you on a business trip and tell you they will reimburse you, make sure you get the money from the company to cover the trip up front, otherwise you may be out the entire cost of the business trip as well as months of pay if they decide to fire you unexpectedly.

Be very careful about local laws. Be sure you learn about what protections there are for employees (especially foreign employees) under the law. Make sure that you have legitimate working permission because if you are there illegally, it may be incredibly difficult to get the authorities to do anything on your behalf (they may just want to deport you and save the headache). If possible, I suggest contacting people from your country's embassy and explaining the situation and asking for guidance if you have no other way to learn about these things.

I strongly recommend you get out, but if you can't for whatever reason, be sure that you do everything in your power to make sure that you don't end up in a worse situation than you are already in.

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Unfortunately I do need the job, but obviously not at the cost of losing my documents and potential future unemployment due to loss of documents. I will have a talk with the company, if they are prepared to accept copies then fine otherwise I will leave the company. Anyway thanks for your advise. –  Zindarod Apr 4 at 9:46
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One addition: join a union. With those kind of red flags, a small membership fee is a pretty sensible investment, given that it gets you an automatic lawyer if/when they screw you over. –  mhermans Apr 4 at 11:15
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+1 for absolutely no valid reason that they would do it for noble purposes - If they had asked for that before you signed the contract I would have recommended you run the other way. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Apr 4 at 16:52

Although it's not a statutory obligation to withhold someone's degree certificate, there are no provisions in India to prevent such abuse. I often hear chilling stories from my friends and neighbours of all the running around/abuse they had to go through to obtain their certificates back. It's usually a big red flag, and especially so, if you haven't been told about the practice before you signed the contracts.

As a matter of principles, I would not encourage anyone to work in an environment where such practices are observed. I would suggest that you turn down their request, and raise your concerns. If they do not comply, please save your future self the trouble and find another job.

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I live in the US, and whenever I have heard of an employer holding an original document like this, the document is a foreign worker's passport. If I knew of any employer who did that, I would report them immediately to the relevant law enforcement agencies, because this practice is always, 100% of the time, for the purpose of illegally abusing the foreign worker, often by withholding pay or forcing them to commit crimes.

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How would the company even get their hand on that worker's passport ? If a company asked me for it, I would give them a copy; if that's not good enough for them, I would just leave and not look back. Under no circumstance would I just hand it over to them. –  Radu Murzea Apr 7 at 7:22

Question: Is it the norm in other countries and other companies?

It's not the norm in any company where I have ever worked (all in the US). Nor is it the norm in any other country or company with which I am familiar.

Should I leave my original documents with the company?

That's not something I would ever do. Perhaps in your part of the world it is the norm or is required.

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If I were in my own country, this wouldn't be such an issue. But in a foreign country getting caught up in a legal battle is hell. Especially in a country where money buys justice. –  Zindarod Apr 4 at 12:13
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According to my research this is part of a practice that is used by companies in the middle east to effectively enslave workers. First they get these type of documents, then they need your id's and passport, so they can "arrange transport" then they smuggle the workers into countries like Dubai, Yemen, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia where they are forced to work in intolerable conditions. The guardian did a piece on it at the end of last year: theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/22/… –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Apr 5 at 13:52

Within the UK:

Your employer is entitled to see proof of qualification, but it not entitled to keep them.

Witholding your pay is probably illegal, but it depends on your contract. See https://www.gov.uk/understanding-your-pay/deductions-from-your-pay for more details.

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An option which will either satisfy them (if the reasons are above board, which is unlikely) or flush out the real reasons: put the document in escrow.

This will involve drawing up an agreement as to when the document will be returned. You can then deposit the document and agreement with a third party solicitor, who will then handle it according to the agreement.

(This is assuming you're operating in a country with reasonably solid rule of law, where there can be such a thing as an impartial third party.)

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Unfortunately I don't work in such country. –  Zindarod Apr 4 at 12:20

No it isn't the norm at all. That sound very odd and I would definitely consider getting out of that job or refusing their offer. They want to use your degree certificate as a bargaining chip or blackmail and there is only one person with whom that certificate belongs to and it's you; not the company.

Please be careful.

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I have worked in South Africa, the UK and the USA and have never had to leave my original documents with my employer. I may have had to show them my originals, but have never had to leave them in their possession. Most have not even wanted to see copies, nevermind the originals :-).

You have not stated which country this is happening in and do not seem willing to state it, so it's not easy to assist. However, this clearly makes you uncomfortable, so perhaps this isn't the company for you—or even the country for you.

If it is common practice in the country you're in and they're not used against the majority of the people, I'd feel a little better about it. But coming from my background, it would feel very wrong to me. And I'm sure even illegal in the countries I've worked in.

Edited to add: Having worked in the US on a foreign passport, I have never been asked for the employer to hold my passport. If that is what's going on, that would be a huge red flag to me.

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It is most certainly not the norm in Australia. I have never been asked for proof of qualifications, and if I was, I'd email through a scan of my testamur or furnish the interviewer with a photocopy. I would never hand over an original document.

As for your passport, they may ask to see it as proof of identity and right to work in the country, and possibly make a scan or photocopy of the relevant pages, but I can see no legitimate reason why an employer would ever need to keep this document.

Passports are the property of the government which issues them, and should never be surrendered except to a legitimate government agent of the country you are in, or to an embassy for the purpose of obtaining a visa.

This sounds like an extremely abusive situation, I would be extremely concerned if an employer here asked me for these things. Under normal conditions I would terminate the interview immediately (i.e. I would get up and walk out).

It is also a serious criminal offense for any Australian employer here to withhold pay. The employer can be fined and a conviction recorded, on top of being forced to pay the outstanding salary anyway. The only exception is where the employee is holding company property and is simply refusing to return it (e.g. a company laptop which you failed to return on your last day or make some arrangement to return).

Of course, I cannot advise you on the norms in your country, and you may not have the same entitlements and protections which the labour movement has won for workers here. I would advise you, if possible, to contact the professional association in your country which represents your profession. You may also like to look around for any labour organisations you might contact for advice, or even consider speaking to a lawyer.

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Exactly one question to demonstrate just how absurd this is:

Why would you trust them with your documents, if they wouldn't trust you with your own documents?

And a personal anecdote: Once, when I was very young, a hotel in a foreign country did this with my passport, in exchange for "holding my room". I'm still kicking myself for surrendering it, even though it was returned without incident. Never again. In retrospect, I should have made a counteroffer; "Hold my room, AND give me a great rate, and I won't ask around about this practice of yours."

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