Certificate of employment

Employers are obligated to issue a Certificate of Employment (COE) is required to be issued by an employer upon request by an employee or an ex-employee.

1. Concept

A certificate of employment (COE) is a document certifying a current or former employee’s employment with an employer, including the start and end date, as well as the position/s held.

Otherwise stated, a COE refers to “a certificate from the employer specifying the dates of an employee’s engagement and the termination of his/her employment and the type or types of work in which he/she is employed.” (Section 1, DOLE Labor Advisory No. 06, Series of 2010, henceforth “LA 06-10”)

2. Who issues COE

A COE should only be issued by the employers to current or former employees.

a. Contractor or subcontractor

In contracting or subcontracting arrangements, the contractors or subcontractors are the employers of the deployed or assigned personnel. Accordingly, the contractors or subcontractors should be the one issuing the COE, and not the principal or the client.

Hence, the principal or the client should refrain and avoid granting any request or demand for the issuance of a COE by deployed or assigned personnel of the contractor or subcontractor. Instead, such request or demand should be endorsed to the appropriate contractor or subcontractor.

b. Overseas Employment

In case of overseas employment, the foreign employer is expected to be the one issuing a COE.

However, if the foreign employer refuses or is unable to do so, it is submitted that the local agency may be requested or demanded to issue a COE considering that the local agency as an agent of the foreign employer is an indirect employer. This is also aligned with the rule on solidary liability between the foreign employer and the local agency.

c. Independent contractors, freelancers, talents, etc.

Independent contractors, freelancers, talents, and similar thereto, are not employees of those who hired or engaged them who are their clients. Accordingly, clients cannot issue a COE to independent contractors.

Instead, clients may issue a Certificate of Service (COS) or an Attestation, which would certify or attest to the fact that they were clients of the independent contractor who provided certain services within a particular duration. The COS or Attestation may serve as a valid substitute for a COE, which an independent contractor may need for employment or future engagements.

3. When issued

A COE is issued after the termination of employment or upon request by an employee. (Ibid.)

The employer is required to issue a COE within three (3) days from the time of request by the employee. (Article III, Ibid.)

a. Written request/demand, not necessary

Per LA 06-10, a simple request is necessary for the grant or issuance of a COE. Request may be verbal or in writing as the DOLE Regulation did not specifically require that the request should be in writing. By stating that a “request” be made by the employee, it is to be understood in ordinary and plain language, which means it can be a verbal request or a written request. Thus, a verbal request should be sufficient.

b. Ex-employees

Ex-employees may request for a COE from their employers.

Even if they are no longer connected with their previous employers, it is still the right of ex-employees to request or demand a COE, particularly if they were never issued one during their employment or after their exit from the Company. Thus, it is incumbent upon the employers to issue a COE to their outgoing employees as part of the exit process.

Further, there is no limitation as to up to when ex-employees may request for a COE. Meaning, both an employee who recently exited and one who has exited from the Company for over a year has equal right and interest to a COE. No discrimination should be made between them. This is particularly important if the employer was at fault for not issuing a COE during their employment or upon exit.

NB: If ex-employees seeks assistance from the DOLE for the issuance of a COE, the likely outcome/result is that the DOLE would order/instruct the employer to issue a COE.

4. Normal behavior

“Getting a Certificate of Employment is normal.” (City Trucking, Inc. v. Balajadia, G.R. No. 160769, 09 August 2006)

a. Not an act of abandonment

Where an employee fails to report for work after requesting for a COE, it is not an act of abandonment. (Ibid.)

Where an employer deemed the issuance of a COE as a sign of abandonment of work and thus the was continued failure to give new assignments to the employee, this was considered as acts supporting a case for constructive dismissal. (Josan v. Aduna, G.R. No. 190794, 22 February 2012)

5. Effects of issuing a COE

The issuance of a COE is an important duty and responsibility of an employer to its employees or ex-employees. Thus, the employer should exercise due care and caution in performing such an obligation as there are effects to the issuance of a COE.

a. Binding on the employer

Where an employer defended the issuance of a certificate of service or a COE, which covered a contested period whether the employee worked or not, solely to accommodate the complainant who needed the same for his work application abroad, the case was decided in favor of the employee. “The purpose for which said certificate was issued becomes irrelevant. The fact remains that (the management) knowingly and voluntarily issued the certificate. Mere denials and self-serving statements to the effect that (complainant) allegedly not promised not to use the certificate against (the management) are not sufficient to overturn the same. Hence, (the management) is estopped from assailing the contents of its own certificate of service.” (Salazar v. NLRC, H.L. Carlos Construction, Co., Inc., G.R. No. 109210, 17 April 1996)

Notwithstanding above, if it can be clearly established and proven that mistaken entries resulted from a typographical error, negligence, or oversight, it is submitted that the COE may be considered as incorrectly issued. To prove the correct information, the employer may present substantial evidence, such as the employment contract, pay slips, and other employment records, as well as affidavits of those who can explain the mistake or oversight.

b. When COE reflects last day

Where an employee supported her case for illegal dismissal based on a COE that stated that she was terminated at least two weeks from her last day, it was not considered as evidence of her premature termination from the company “but instead, evidence to show that the (employee) had chosen to avail of her 19 days unused leave credits, as allowed by the company” via an earlier letter. “Upon her own request, she was issued this certification to clear her of all her outstanding liabilities since she, as admitted, would not anymore report for work in view of her leave availment.” (OKS DesignTech, Inc. v Caccam, G.R. No. 211263, 05 August 2015)

c. Insufficient to prove employer-employee relationship

Where a complainant alleged that she was an employee and showed proof via a COE which was issued to accommodate the request so she could acquire future employment elsewhere, it was held that the COE was insufficient to establish the employer-employee relationship. “Considering that the human resource manager explained that the said certification was issued simply for the (complainant’s) future employment elsewhere, it behooves upon (complainant) to discharge the burden of evidence against her by presenting other competent evidence to clearly establish the claimed employer-employee relationship.” (Halipot v. Jade Palace Restaurant, G.R. No. 209363, 10 November 2014)

While the contents of a COE is generally binding on the employer, this does not necessarily result in establishing an employer-employee relationship as such is governed by law.

To prove the existence of an employer-employee relationship, two tests are currently used:

1) Four-fold test (a.k.a. control test); and

2) Economic reality test.

Generally, the four-fold test is used for proving or disproving an employment relationship. Where the situation is more complex such that the four-fold test may be insufficient, the economic reality test is likewise used to prove or disprove an employer-employee relationship.

d. Insufficient to prove claims for sales commission

Where an employee presented a COE to prove his claim for sales commission, it was held to be insufficient “as said document does not give details as to the conditions for payment of the same or the agreed percentage, if any. (Solas v. Power & Telephone Supply Phils., Inc., G.R. No. 162332, 28 August 2008)

References

DOLE Labor Advisory No. 06, Series of 2010

/Updated: February 15, 2023

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