Arbeitszeugnis and translation

Note: this weblog now redirects to The old address will stop working before Brexit, so please change details in your address list.

I have written about Arbeitszeugnis/reference here before: Translating references/Übersetzung von Arbeitszeugnissen and Zur vollsten Zufriedenheit: voll verwirrend für Übersetzer. There is probably enough there.

But I have just attended two out of three webinars on German employment law run by the BDÜ and presented by Christin Dallmann, and she spoke at some length about Arbeitszeugnisse, assuming that we are often asked to translate them.

When I was in Germany, I was asked a few times but always refused. It depends what kinds of clients you work for, of course. As Frau Dallmann said, one could translate one literally and add a footnote explaining that German references, to which an employee has a legal right, are written in a secret language, at least the type called qualifiziertes Arbeitszeugnis rather than einfaches Arbeitszeugnis are.

I now understand even more about the secret language than I did before. The secret language has been confirmed and developed by the courts. They have four elements: employer’s satisfaction (Zufriedenheitsfaktor), time (Zeitfaktor), conduct (Verhaltensbeurteilung) and conclusion (Beendigungsformel). So even the last sentence may imply more than the surface indicates: whether the employee was dismissed, or whether the decision to leave was amicable.

Here’s a question on Toytown Germany from a Canadian who wants to understand his surprisingly positive-sounding Arbeitszeugnis – we never find out if it turned out to be negative.

And here is a good description of German references at Squire Patton Boggs.

Zeugnisfabrik apparently translate references in both directions. But the suggestion of converting an English reference into a German Arbeitszeugnis seems highly dubious and possibly illegal to me:

Accordingly, German Arbeitszeugnisse have to adhere to certain form specifications and the language in which they are written has developed peculiar characteristics that need to be skillfully balanced to ensure that all legal requirements are met.

As a consequence, the translation of a reference letter into an Arbeitszeugnis will always necessitate professional knowledge not only of both languages, but of German legal requirements, as well.

1 thought on “Arbeitszeugnis and translation

  1. When I left my law-clerking student-job in Hamburg almost half a century ago, the Rechstanwältin boss asked me to write my own job reference in both German and English. I was needled at the time, but can understand the ‘zur Entlastung’ reasons for it now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.