I got a Arbeitszeugnis (Employment of reference) from my previous Employer in Germany. In Germany, it is illegal to write something negative to employees. However, when you look at that, you perceive it very positive in the first impression. But there is a formula behind it which reveals the truth. That is what companies are applying in Germany. And according to my analyze , I got 2.9. that is average point that makes me not happy as my opinion was different.

In this situations I have two questions;

Do they have to renew it in a way that corresponds to higher point? Or does it depend on them to make improvement? I want to know legal side.

Second question is, as this is german letter, Do I have a right to translate it to English when I apply to English speaking jobs in other countries ? And is it applying to also outside of Germany to use this formulas or is it something specific in Germany ?


  • When you apply in other countries, you don't need your Arbeitszeugnis. also, if you got the average, then it's not bad. Not good, but not bad. It probably reflects what they truly thought of you. – Mawg says reinstate Monica Dec 21 '18 at 10:21
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    Okey but then I need just employment proof that I worked there between x and y dates as an...... . Therefore which document should I ask them now Because they already gave it but including this average assessment. – Dman Dec 21 '18 at 13:17
  • Then give them the document in German. They can read the dates, but not understand what it says :-) – Mawg says reinstate Monica Dec 21 '18 at 14:06

Well, first, this "code" or "formula" is specific to Germany and not official. If it were, it would be illegal. So any number you pulled is a rough estimation of a specific person or book. If your employer did not hire the very same person or read the very same book, it's a guesstimate at best.

The next employer might not use the same deciphering tool you use and might come to a different number.

In addition, leaving out a quality might mean you sucked, or it might mean the company did not see that quality as important. If it is important to your next job, you might want it to be put in, even if it's just an average remark.

The Arbeitszeugnis is something your employer creates. You have the right to one, you are entitled to anything in there not being a hindrance to further employment (hence the codified ratings that all sound positive at face value). If you are not happy with what is in it, your first step would be to contact your employer and suggest specific improvements. If it's minor corrections, you have a good chance of them saying yes, because writing an Arbeitszeugnis is a pain and if HR can make you happy by changing minor details... why not, it's not as if they will make decisions based on it.

If you are not happy with it and HR is not willing to incorporate your constructive change request, you will need a lawyer specialized in employment law. A nice letterhead might bring HR's attention to the fact that it's not worth it to argue with you over minor details, if not, you might go to court over it. That's not exactly rare.

Translating a German Arbeitszeugnis to English is complex. As in German, taking it at face value is pretty much a lie. If the English counterpart does not know the code, it's useless, translating it will corrupt the code. I mean just put a few sentences into Google Translate then go back and forth and see what I mean. Translating texts that include hidden messages will be bad for the message. So there is nothing illegal in translating a text correctly into English. I just don't think it's possible with a German Arbeitszeugnis. The words will translate, the meaning will be gone. I would definitely attach it as it also confirms employment dates, though.

  • Thank you very much for such a detailed answer. I have searched a bit more and I saw that there is also einfach arbeitszeugnis without any Bewertung. That would be maybe better for my case instead of adding nothing to take that as a proof that I worked in that company between those dates. However I already take qualizifiertes Arbeitszeugnis. Do I have a right to ask them one more time to get the first one without any assessment ? What would be the best way to ask this to them ? Because I know that they will not improve my points if I ask. – Dman Dec 21 '18 at 13:06
  • You are entitled to one Arbeitszeugnis, not both. If you can, pick the qualified, long version. The short version is only used if your stay was so short, no qualified judgement can be made or if said judgement is so obviously bad and backed up by facts that would hold in court that you'd prefer to have a simple one instead of a qualified. 2.9 is no reason to get a simple one. A criminal conviction for arson because you burned down your employers warehouse would be a reason to only request a simple one. – nvoigt Dec 24 '18 at 9:20
  • I honestly apply for global companies outside of Germany which accepts applications with English language. So, I cant translate the qualizifierter Arbeitszeugnis because it will not make sense. Thats why I requested them also einfach Arbeitszeugnis. – Dman Dec 24 '18 at 19:20

The "code"

There is no universal code that you can reliably translate to grades. The general "rule" is only that you need to read between the lines and that any positive adjectives are typically "down-valued" with respect to their usual usage, which is just a natural response to not being allowed to using negative words. So "he was good" becomes "he was mediocre" and "he was awesome" becomes "he was good" in actual meaning etc. Thus the lowest possible positive thing is suddenly mediocre or actually negative. There might be lists of an order among adjectives being ascribed to a person or what they actually "mean", but there is no universal consensus. It all depends on the person writing the letter. Especially in small companies people might not be very familiar with writing such reference letters and thus just write it at face value. Those then sound worse than those that are written with the shifted encoding in mind.

Asking for amendments

If you feel something is factually misrepresented, you can definitely ask for it to be fixed, e.g. if you worked on a project and they forgot to mention it or if they listed the wrong technology you worked with etc. You should be able to prove this easily and they should be able to easily look this up internally as well. So it's likely they will adjust it (if you are correct) and even if they for some reason would disagree, you should have an easy case in court (or for your lawyer to convince their lawyers that going to court over this would be silly of them).

With respect to the "evaluation part" where they express how happy they were with you, it's less easy. You can ask, but it's typically at their digression, unless they violate the law in being clearly negative. So if you only ask for minor adjustments they may be willing to go for it just to avoid any hassle, but the more you ask for the less likely they will agree and going to court over it has a more unclear outcome. Unless of course there was a mistake and they, for instance, gave you the reference letter for your good for nothing co-worker or something like that.


Typically it is not the duty of your company to provide you with a translation in any language. However, if your company is multi-lingual, i.e. English is an or even the official company language, then they might be willing to give you the reference letter in English. I'm not enough of a law expert to exclude the requirement for a company with English as primary official language to give you the reference letter in English, but I'm pretty sure they are at most required to give you one version, not mulitple versions in multiple languages.

Bottom line: Typically translations of your reference letters are up to you. You might want to task a translation agency with that though if you want to use it for an application.


Do they have to renew it in a way that corresponds to higher point? Or does it depend on them to make improvement? I want to know legal side.

The ask a lawyer specialized in that.

What bothers me beyond that this is a legal question (and thus, not for SE), is that you don't indicate if you see a factual mistake in the Zeugniss (e.g. that they suggest something by one of the hidden formulations) but that you plainly state that a grade by some mysterious formula calculator. There are indeed certain formulation indicating certain things, and some of these may be killed legally.

As to the second question, obviously you are allowed to translate any document, but don't expect anybody to take your own translation seriously. The fact that you are asking if you can translate formulations which are highly country-specific and contextual using an unofficial grade scale by some mysterious nonexistent generalized "formula" indicated that you personally are clearly unable to translate it. You could ask for a "Beglaubigte Uebersetzung" (from an official translator), but it's not so cheap.

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    if your opening line is ask a lawyer specialized in that. then you probably should reconsider submitting an answer. Legal aspects of the workplace are not off topic. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 21 '18 at 17:27
  • There were two questions. The first one was about changing the Zeugniss, the second one about translation. – Sascha Dec 21 '18 at 18:21
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    Again Legal aspects of the workplace are NOT off topic. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 21 '18 at 18:31
  • In Germany specific answers to specific situations are by definition off topic. unless you are a lawyer it may or may not be "unerlaubte Rechtsberatung". – Sascha Dec 21 '18 at 19:49
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    specific answers to specific situations are by definition off topic - Citation Required. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 21 '18 at 19:53

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