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After reading this question about relieving letters, which seem to be common in India and other Asian countries, I started wondering how this system prevents abuse of the employee by unscrupulous companies like this one and this other one.

From my American perspective, this system seems ripe for abuse.

  • How does an employee prevent an employer from forcing them work for the company by simply not giving a relieving letter?
  • How does an employee prevent extortion by his employer if he chooses to leave (like the 2nd example)?
  • How does an employer verify this letter? It seems like it would be easy to simply write the letter yourself and sign your boss' name.

EDIT (in hopes of a good answer):

In the American system, any company is going to call a new hire's old place of employment and verify employment dates. If the old company refuses to give it, the current company can choose to "write off" the new hires old company. This does NOT seem to be the case with a relieving letter. A relieving letter law would seem to place the power in the hands of the unscrupulous old company that is losing people left and right.

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    Good question, but I'm not sure there is a good answer. Seems like there are good reasons we don't use that system here in the US, and not really any great using to use it. – Jared Sep 18 '14 at 14:51
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    Why do you keep asking tough, no-nonsense questions for which there are no easy answers? :) Hopefully, some of our Indian colleagues can weigh in as subject matter experts. Unfortunately, if our site is more likely to get questions about relieving letters than answers about them, then it's a sign that not all is well with the concept of relieving letters :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 18 '14 at 14:56
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    Individual rights and protections of the weak are not something that is a strong trait in India. Corruption is rampant and a court case is more likely to be resolved in the favor of the largest bribe than due to any legal arguements. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 18 '14 at 15:42
  • And civil court cases in India can stretch awfully long - we are no talking years, we're talking decades. – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 18 '14 at 17:59
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    You've got to wonder why the "few years abroad" option isn't more popular. Leaving India you wouldn't need that letter and coming back you wouldn't be expected to have one from a foreign company. I've met quite a few Indians who should qualify for a Blue Card rather easily (That's the EU version of a US Green Card) – MSalters Sep 24 '14 at 21:35
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Ripe for abuse? It is being abused even by what were some of the most reputed and respected brand names in India.

Yes; what these employers do fits into the legal definition of "extortion". If an employee does not comply with the demands of the company, (s)he stands to lose the job offer from the new company. This tactic is especially prevalent in companies facing severe attrition. The problem is, the older generation was more compliant and has been conditioned into accepting coercion from companies. It is the younger generation that has to fight to change this. Sadly enough for these companies, employees lose respect for the company on seeing how the resigning employees were treated, and make plans to hand in their resignation soon.

India has groups like F.I.T.E which might help in fighting the menace of relieving letters. Some organizations try to manipulate employees by bullying them into saying that they cannot approve the relieving of the employee unless they serve the (obscenely long) 90 day notice period, even though the employment contract clearly states that the employee can leave whenever they want, provided they pay the amount for the 90 days minus notice period number of days.

Even Indian companies (the more progressive ones) are mature enough to not ask for unnecessary paperwork and to relieve an employee as per contract, without using abusive/coercive techniques.
In any case, prevention is better than cure. If during your interviews you encounter a company asking for unnecessary details or your original certificates or if you see Glassdoor reviews where employees mention the trouble they had when they submitted their resignation, then simply don't join such a company.

So my suggestion on preventing abuse is:

Awareness with a solution

  1. Create a template. Any organization that wants to change its age-old practices would need to know the steps of how to weed out fake applicants and hire new talent quickly. A template/guideline or forming an association with job sites could help solve the problems because of which employers resort to abusive/dumb techniques.
  2. Spread word. Ask people to write reviews about their current/former companies on Glassdoor.com, if the company refuses a relieving letter or makes it difficult for employees who have resigned. And of course write positive reviews about good companies too :-)
  3. Contact F.I.T.E or similar groups (feel free to edit this answer and add more group names), mention the problem (not just relieving letters, but also the practice of asking for payslips, other paperwork and retaining original certificates), discuss on how the menace could be solved and do it.
  4. Raise awareness on social media. Not just about relieving letters, but also about how companies need to shorten the notice period. Unless all companies do so, the ones that do shorten it, stand to lose.
  5. Write to newspapers/magazines. If you have contacts who know whom to contact, to be able to get articles on the subject published, contact them and get it done.

Creating awareness and offering a better solution than abuse are one way to solve the problem.

Legal

The awareness can also eventually bring legislation into effect, which can make it illegal for an employer to not offer a relieving letter to an employee who has resigned as per the terms of the employment contract. The legislation also has to cover situations where the contract specifies how long the employee should have worked in the company to be eligible to be relieved, but where the contract does not mention any escape clause for the employee to quit before the duration of work is completed.
Legislation is important. For example, Facebook can initiate legal action if people are forced to reveal their Facebook password.

Probable History
I'm not entirely sure if this is the reason for relieving letters, but in approx the 1960's to 1970's, some of the youth in India took it to their head that they could quit their job anytime, without even telling the employer that they were quitting. I personally know one person who did that. As a safety mechanism, companies began asking people to submit their original school and college marks cards when they joined the company, and the company would keep it with them until the employee resigned. Of course, this system started being abused by unscrupulous companies and there was no guarantee that the marks cards wouldn't get lost, so the practice slowly died down, and I assume the alternate strategy that companies came up with, was to issue relieving letters.

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I have worked in India for > 15 years, though I have worked predominantly in M.N.C's. Frankly it is Indian companies that ask for all sorts of 'paper work', 'original' marksheets etc. In MNCs I worked for, no paper was ever asked, even though offer letters did state that I had to submit the same on the date of joining. I joined my first company - first MNC - before I completed my Masters!

If you want to join an Indian company, be prepared to do all sorts of paper-work, which can be really tiring/tedious. In many companies, even before you are given the job, you have to send them scanned copies of your passport, payslip of current employer, etc.

To be fair to them, they do get applicants with spurious 'work/experience certificates' and they fear that they have 'selected someone by mistake'. So every hiring manager wants to save their money by asking for such certificates. Not sure how it is in other countries. As an employee, we mostly see HR only on our first day and last day in the company!

  • This answers several of my questions. Can you add a few sentences specific to if you had paystubs/passports/etc but NOT a relieving letter? – sevensevens Feb 3 '15 at 16:38
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    I had relieving letters from all companies that I worked but as I said, barring few Indian companies that asked for a photocopy of the same, no other company (meaning MNC) asked/checked for the same. Obviously I never had to give original certificate to any employer till date. I have heard that it is actually illegal for employers to keep the original certificates of their employees with them, forget important documents like passports. – Raghuraman R Feb 4 '15 at 4:58
  • every hiring manager wants to save their money or every hiring manager wants to save their face? – Jan Doggen Nov 13 '15 at 14:45

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