HR Talk: Top 11 Questions About the Certificate of Employment (COE)

Certificate of Employment (COE) — A simple document that has created so much ruckus in the HR community these days. Why oh why oh why?

Technically, the COE is a very simple document.  See DOLE Labor Advisory No. 6, Series of 2020 for the particulars:

Verbatim to the advisory, a Certificate of Employment (COE) is a certificate made by the employer specifying the dates of an employee engagement and termination of his/her employment and the type or types of work in which he/she is employed. For the purposes of this advisory, an employee whose employment is not terminated may also ask for a Certificate of Employment.

The Labor Advisory No. 6, Series of 2020 is also clear on the delivery of the COE:

However, there are some employees and employers who still misunderstand the advisory. Hence, a super brief Q&A about the COE. Below is the flow of the post for your reference:

1. Who can request for a Certificate of Employee (COE)? Ans: Every Employee Fulfilling Four Fold Rule.

2. Is the COE the Same as a Clearance? Ans: NO.

3. How Many Days Should My Employer Give Me My COE? Ans: 3 Days.

4. My Employer Divulged in my COE that I was Terminated for Just Causes, Went AWOL, or Indicated Some Other Reason I Don’t Want to Divulge to my Future Employer. Is there a Data Privacy Violation? Ans: No.

5. My Evil Employer Wrote in my COE that I was Terminated for Just Causes, Went AWOL, or Indicated Some Other Reason I Don’t Want to Divulge to my Future Employer. I am Fuming Mad. Was their Disclosure Illegal? Ans: Not Illegal Per Se.

6. Can my Employer Disclose the Reason Why I was Terminated in My COE? Ans: Yes.

7. How Can I Correct the Wordings of my COE if I Want to Keep Such Information Confidential? Can I Report them to DOLE to Force my Employer to Revise? Ans: Ask NICELY.

8. Does This Mean that an Employer Can Write ANYTHING They Want? Ans: No, they can only write what is true. 

9. Is there a Standard Certificate of Employment Template A Company Should Follow? Ans: No.

10. My Employer Says I Need to Resign Properly/Finish Clearance/Drop My DOLE Case Before they They Release my COE. Are they Correct? Ans: No, they are WRONG.

11. How Can I Ensure that the COE My Company Provides is Something I can Use for the Future? Ans: Be a good employee. 

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HR Talk: Top 10 Questions About the Certificate of Employment (COE)

1. Who can request for a Certificate of Employee (COE)?

Anybody who was and is an employee of the company CAN request for a COE. These includes:

  • Separated employees: Be it by termination, resignation, separation or end of contract. So long as you’ve been employed in the Company, no matter how long the tenure, you can ask for a COE
  • Current employees who are still there — whether or not you are active or rendering

So long as you are an employee following the FOUR-FOLD TEST FOR EMPLOYMENT, you can request for a COE.

The four-fold test in determining the existence of an employer-employee relationship was duly satisfied, particularly: (a) the selection and engagement of the employee; (b) the payment of wages; (c) the power of dismissal; and (d) the employer’s power to control the employee on the means and methods by which the work is accomplished.25

This means if you work as a part-time, probationary, contractual, seasonal, fixed term, or regular employee, you can ask your employer for a COE.

If you are under a manpower agency, you can also ask your true employer — the manpower agency and not the client/principal — for the COE.

2. Is the COE the Same as a Clearance?

No, it is NOT. It is only a certificate made by your employer that you were employed at Company ABC from Period X to Period Y.

3. How Many Days Should My Employer Give Me My COE?

The DOLE Labor Advisory No. 6, Series of 2020 is clear with the deadline — THREE DAYS upon request.

Please note that as we are now in ECQ and many NCR offices are closed, the three days can be construed as three WORKING days.“But I want my COE now to travel to the province!”

Well, you should have asked for it 3 days BEFORE the ECQ started. If you asked late, that is not the employer’s problem. So it’s better to wait when work resumes to get it.

“So can I complain my employer to DOLE?”

Yes you can. But DOLE is now working on skeletal force. I know — because I called them just today.

And while they can receive your complaints, they will only take action when ECQ is lifted which is on August 23 (Monday). By that time, your COE will arrive earlier than the SeNA letter, making your complaint a useless exercise.

My suggestion — Be reasonable AND patient.

The world does not revolve around you. Please wait for the lockdown to be lifted before demanding for the COE if you submitted it late.

4. My Employer Divulged in my COE that I was Terminated for Just Causes, Went AWOL, or Indicated Some Other Reason I Don’t Want to Divulge to my Future Employer. Is there a Data Privacy Violation?

No there is no violation to the Data Privacy Act of 2012.

Reason being, the COE is a certification that is handed over by the company representative (usually the HR) direct to the employee himself.

And if the employee himself choose to divulge the information to another persons, he thus gives his consent to share his private information to the other.

This is no longer the company’s problem, but the employee. Hence, no violation to the Data Privacy act is made here.

This is why, the employer should never post the COE on social media, disseminate it around group chats, or hand the document over to anybody else but the employee who requested for it. Given that it is handed over to the employee direct, there is no violation to the Data Privacy Act.

5. My Evil Employer Wrote in my COE that I was Terminated for Just Causes, Went AWOL, or Indicated Some Other Reason I Don’t Want to Divulge to my Future Employer. I am Fuming Mad. Was their Disclosure Illegal?

A lot of HR state that the COE should only specify three things because this is what is specified by DOLE Labor Advisory No. 6, Series of 2020:

  • Start date of employment
  • End date of employment
  • The type or types of work in which he/she is employed

However, we should be careful in stating that the COE should only include the three facts, when in fact, rereading the DOLE Labor Advisory No. 6, Series of 2020, the word, “ONLYDOES NOT exist in the document. See?

This means that while the COE is not a Certification of Good Conduct or a Clearance document, it is not illegal for an employer to include FACTS about the employee on the COE, PROVIDED that the facts are documented, can be easily verified by the company, and is truthful.

Such disclosure does not make what the Employer did as illegal.

As mentioned, what the COE contained are facts that are true, and the COE was handed to the employee direct who is free to share the document to anybody else he/she sees fit if needed.

The Advisory DOES NOT prohibit the employer from writing facts about the employee if the facts are documented and true. While many HR believe that including such facts in the COE seem retaliatory and unprofessional, that is merely their opinion. Writing work-related irrefutable facts about the employee inside the COE is not illegal, otherwise, DOLE Labor Advisory No. 6, Series of 2020 would have been more specific.

In short, if what happened is indeed true — the person was terminated for just causes following due process — then the company is not disallowed from stating it on a certification they produce.

6. Can my Employer Disclose the Reason Why I was Terminated in My COE?

Yes, absolutely yes.

The employer can put the information in that one-page piece of paper, AS LONG AS it is factual and not libelous. If the employee was truly terminated for Just Causes, it is not illegal for the employer to state this onto the COE. It is purely a management decision.

People are mistaken if they believe that the law disallows that the Employer should hide such information from a COE. It is absolutely clear that there is no law that states that such information should be barred from the COE. Even if you read and reread any advisories, no advisory, Labor Code or Omnibus Rules Implementing the Labor Code YET has explicitly stated that such information cannot be disclosed on the COE.

In summary, employers has the option to indicate the nature of the termination of employment so long as it’s factual, true and done with proper due process. Hindi siya illegal. 

If the employee resigned, the employer can indicate the employee voluntarily resigned on the COE. And if he was terminated for just causes, you can also indicate this on the COE as well.

Whether or not you agree with this, or choose to disclose this, is your prerogative. What is important to cite though is that management has the option to disclose this or not.

Like for example, an employee stole from the company half a million pesos. The company followed due process in terminating such employee. Should the company keep quiet about the fact that the person has been untrustworthy in their company? Is it illegal for them to disclose the fact on the COE?

The answer is, it is NOT illegal. Because it is not a lie and it is not libelous. And if you are angry that some HR officers choose to disclose this since you believe every employee deserves a fresh start, then ask yourself this — If it does not matter to you whether the employee has done something bad in their previous employee, then you should hire that employee regardless on what is disclosed in the COE, no?

Even if the offense done by the employee was a crime, or he was terminated for just causes, the fact that you are incensed that these facts are written on a person’s private COE shows you are good hearted and will want to give that person a second chance. If so, it does not matter what is written on the COE anymore. Because regardless on its content, all that’s important for you is the start and end date, and his job role. Hence, you should just hire this person regardless of his previous employment record because you believe everybody deserves a new beginning.

You cannot have it both ways.

You cannot be angry at the HR Officer/Management who has been honest and not at the employee who himself/herself committed the crime. If the crime for you is immaterial because you demand it be hidden from a COE, then you should be sincere enough to HIRE THAT PERSON INTO YOUR TEAM because you believe everyone should be given a chance.

7. How Can I Correct the Wordings of my COE if I Want to Keep Such Information Confidential? Can I Report them to DOLE to Force my Employer to Revise?

Again, you can always complain if you want. That is your God-given right as a citizen of the Philippines.

But let’s be honest here, on what grounds is your complaint based on?

Did they lie on your COE? Were they dishonest? Was the content of the document untrue?

Before you complain to DOLE, first find out if there is something illegal or abusive that your employer has done.

If the employer stated on your COE that you went AWOL, or was terminated for just causes and you wanted to scratch that out, you may REQUEST them to do so, but in no way can you force them to rewrite the Certificate of Employment if they refuse.

The COE is the employer’s certification, NOT yours. The employee cannot demand the employer to rewrite the COE under the format the employee prefers because it’s their certification to make and not the employee’s.

What they put in a COE bears the employer’s responsibility and hence, they need to be accountable to its contents. It is different for example if what was written is slanderous and untrue. However, if the content is true, and you prefer not to disclose it, then it is your choice NOT to hand over the COE to somebody else to read.

If you want them to rewrite, you will most likely get what you want if you ask NICELY, than to huff and puff and threaten to report them to DOLE, because truth be told, DOLE Labor Advisory No. 6, Series of 2020 only states that they have to issue the document to you in 3 days time, and the advisory never said that these are ONLY the three things you can put on the COE.  Actually a COE can also indicate the job position, the compensation received (See my answer to #7) and other relevant details that are work related.

Again, REREAD — the wordings are very clear.

8. Does This Mean that an Employer Can Write ANYTHING They Want?

A Warning to Employers Though — In Everything, Be Reasonable and Do Things in Good Faith

Employers, DO NOT BE AN ASS and make the COE as a retaliatory document against an employee in such that you make up stories about that person. Remember the definition of LIBEL? Let me remind you — It is the following:

Libel is the publication of writing, pictures, cartoons, or any other medium that expose a person to public hatred, shame, disgrace, or ridicule, or induce an ill opinion of a person, AND are not true. 

A COE is a written certification made by the Employer. Once the document is given to the employee, such employee can use the COE as written proof on what type of employer you are. If your COE is full of venom and bullsh*t and what’s written is not even true, the Employee can just as easily use the document against you and the company.

You must remember — ONLY STICK TO FACTS. 

If the person has not yet been terminated for just causes, do not say as such. If you did not follow due process to terminate the staff for Willful Disobedience due to AWOL, do not state in your COE as such. Only state what is factual and true, and be fair to the employee.

And if you are unsure on how to write, please stick to the general information. 

There is nothing wrong with taking the higher road and sticking to a safe and general notion when you’re handling 600 people and everyone wants a COE. If you’re a responsible HR, err on the side of caution if you’re asking your staff to issue COEs. If you don’t know what to write, you can always just include this standard clause:

“This is NOT a certification of good conduct NOR is it a clearance of the employee’s liabilities and responsibilities in the company. For more information about the employee, you may contact me at emailaddress@gmail.com or at telephone numbers XXXX-XXXX and 09XX-XXX-XXXX.

9. Is there a Standard Certificate of Employment Template A Company Should Follow?

Nope, there is none.

Every company has their own format of COE, and we should respect that. In fact, one of the standard documents that every HR should have is the Certificate of Employment and Compensation that is requested by Pag-IBIG from its members when they apply for a loan.

Anyway, you can download the CERTIFICATE OF EMPLOYMENT AND COMPENSATION that is requested by Pag-IBIG for FREE here:

Source: CERTIFICATE OF EMPLOYMENT AND COMPENSATION

The format does not contain only three things. In fact, it even contains a lot of things beyond what is mentioned by DOLE Labor Advisory No. 6, Series of 2020. And yet nobody complains that their personal information — including their salaries are divulge in such a document?

10. My Employer Says I Need to Resign Properly/Finish Clearance/Drop My DOLE Case Before they They Release my COE. Are they Correct?

Nope — they are not. And they don’t know how to read. Again, according to DOLE Labor Advisory No. 6, Series of 2020, the deadline is 3 days upon your request.

The BEST answer I received regarding how to pressure employers to release your Final Pay and COE is from Martin Sanderson, writer of the Employment Law Project blog. He has a lot of good stuff in his blog, and you need to check it out.

Now, disclosure — Martin and I DISAGREE on whether the violation can be released on the COE. However, I will quote what he shared at the Philippine HR Group on what to do if the employer refuses to provide you the COE and Final Pay. Please note that this is Martin Sanderson’s own response and not mine, and credit is to him and his alone:

[Your Name]
[Address]
[Date]

[Company]
[Address]

Re: Illegally Withholding Final Pay and Certificate of Employment

Good Morning,

In light of the fact that I have been unable to complete clearance from my employment with you for [X months/weeks/days] now, and have had little to no response regarding when you will be processing my clearance, Final Pay, and Certificate of Employment, I am forced to take more drastic measures now.

Under Labor Advisory No. 6, Series of 2020, an employer has 30 days to provide an employee with their final pay, pending completion of their clearance. This is not just a guideline, it is now a law. As such, you are obliged to follow this legal requirement, and provide a terminated employee that has completed clearance with their final pay within the aforementioned time of 30 days.

However, the onus is on the employer to enable the employee to complete their clearance at the earliest opportunity. Your failure to do so may now result in legal action being taken against you.

Your actions to prohibit the facilitation of my clearance from the company are now considered to be tantamount to illegally withholding wages and illegal retention of documents.

I hereby give you fourteen (14) days from the date of this letter to facilitate completion of my clearance and provide my Final Pay and Certificate of Employment.

Your failure to do so WILL result in legal action being taken against you for Illegally Withholding Wages, under Article 116 of the Labor Code (renumbered), and illegally withholding documents under Labor Advisory No. 06-20, which is subject to the standard DOLE Enforcement Mechanism, as per said Advisory.

If the Final Pay and CoE are not received by [insert date], I will be forced to file a complaint and money claim with the NLRC, to include nominal, moral, and exemplary damages and legal fees.

I look forward to a speedy resolution of this unfortunate yet illegal action that you have undertaken.

Yours,

[insert name]

Sanderson advises employees to send the letter via registered mail to the Head of HR, and then send the email copy to all the senior managers you can find listed. If they fail to respond, Martin will help you write a formal legal demand before giving you help in filing a complaint of illegally withholding wages under Article 116.

You can contact Martin Sanderson and his firm HERE at https://emplawphil.wordpress.com/contact/.

11. How Can I Ensure that the COE My Company Provides is Something I can Use for the Future? 

Well, the best way to get a very lovely COE and referral from an employer is to be the type of employee everyone would love to hire.

I’ve had a lot of these employees. They were actually the norm than the exception to the rule. Truth be told, maayos naman talaga ang Pinoy magtrabaho. These people:

  • Did not late or absent without a very valid excuse
  • Did competent work
  • Meets deadlines and very pulido sa trabaho
  • Was very lovely to work with. Never argumentative or mareklamo. When they had an opinion, they voiced it out respectfully and hindi palaaway
  • Never committed an offense that merited a just cause for termination (e.g., AWOL, stolen money, etc.)
  • Never fought with HR or management. When they asked about their payroll or an SOP, they were always respectful and polite about their queries
  • They respected the notice periods for applying for leaves and resignation
  • When it was time for them to go, they resigned properly, and rendered at least 30 days notice. Some even extended for more than 30 days.
  • During those notice periods, they were very nice — They turned over all documents and equipment to the best of their abilities, trained the replacement while they can, worked till the last and final day without absences, and cleared cleanly and properly

These employees were always treasured, valued, and it pained me to see them go. They were really assets to any company they applied for, and it was truly a sad moment for me when I saw they resigned for reasons beyond my control. But as they say:

These were the people whom I hated to see go. So when they call me up to ask for a document, COE, background check or anything else, I do what I can to always revert back to them. Like recently:

  • A probationary employee who left properly (Reason: His house was just too far, and the work was not a good fit for him) asked for a COE after 3 years. Still gave it with a smile.
  • An ex-employee who got pregnant asked us for a Certificate of Non-Advancement of Maternity Benefit and L-501 a year after she left. We gave it happily.
  • An ex-employee was looking for a job, but there was no opening with us. We referred her to another employer and it was a good fit.
  • Someone called us up about an ex-employee to do background check. Since she was a joy to work with, we actually told them she was a dear to work with, and if she applied with them, they should hire her.
  • An ex-employee wanted the information of her SSS loans online corrected. We made an affidavit for her to the SSS stating the facts so they can correct. Happily, there was an opening with us, so our ex-employee once again reapplied and is now working for us again 2.5 years after she left.

All I am saying is, if you’re a good employee, there is nothing an old employer would do for you SO LONG AS it is factual and legal. Everything is possible sa maayos na usapan. So why not accomplish things with good relations?

Personally, I believe that a good HR will guide their employees what to do, not just in this job but also in the next. I want every employee to leave with a good record so that in the future when they’re looking for another job, they can always proudly say that they have always resigned properly, and to even dare that recruiter to make a background check because the employee is confident that his boss has nothing but the best of words for him.

Employees ALWAYS have a choice. They can work and leave properly — or not. But if they are angry when their record is bad because they left improperly, whose fault is it? The employer or the employee?

Anyway, if you have any more to add, please do so on the comment box, and if you like my content, please LIKE and SUBSCRIBE to my blog below.

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One thought on “HR Talk: Top 11 Questions About the Certificate of Employment (COE)

  1. Hi Tina,

    Thank you so much for this Blog. I am one of your subscribers and I am humbly seeking for your advise.

    I have been patiently waiting for my final pay for 5 months now (since the day I was cleared from my previous employer) and it is still not yet ready, as per the management, since they are still waiting for an approval of my Quarterly Bonus (Q1 of 2021) which will be included on my final pay.

    I would like to know if I can take this to DOLE. And if Yes, how much is the amount that is due to me considering this has been too long already.

    Note: Quarterly Bonus was indicated on my Employment Agreement.
    There are no clauses in my contract that I should wait for a specific time until my final pay will be released.

    Hoping for your response.

    Thank you and keep safe!

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