The Germany Series Part 3: How Müller becomes Mueller

When hiring someone from Germany, as an employer you are obligated to determine the identity of your new employee. An addition, you have a legal retention obligation. In part three of the Germany Series, we delve into five points of attention that you have to accommodate in order to meet the identification requirements.

Jasper Spanjaart on March 09, 2020 Average reading time: 5 min
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The Germany Series Part 3: How Müller becomes Mueller

Before someone is able to work for your company, you are legally required to have him or her identify themselves. This identification duty may seem like an unnecessary bureaucratic fabrication, but there’s a reason it exists. ID requirements were brought to life in order to prevent tax and premium fraud. Moreover, it is an instrument to combat illegal employment. After all, how can you know if someone is who they pretend to be, without proper identification.

When not fulfilling the identification duty, you are at risk of a hefty fine.

It may occur that you’re dealing with someone who does not have legal citizenship within the EU, or someone who has not obtained a work permit for other reasons. As an employer, you have a duty to determine the identity of your employee. When not fulfilling this duty, you are at risk of a hefty fine.

Even though the identification duty comes with a few administrative duties, it should not be too much work. Follow these five relatively simple steps and you should be fine.

#1. Ask your employee for an original and valid proof of identity.

An original German passport or identity card will suffice. A copy won’t, nor will a driver’s license or proof of identity with just a social security number. If the employee cannot or does not want to show proof of identity, you simply cannot let him or her work at your company.

#2. You’ll have to check whether someone from abroad is allowed to work in your country.

For Germans, you can skip this step. After all, within the EU (except for Romania and Bulgaria), employees are able to move freely through the free movement for workers. This means nationals of any members state of the European Union are able to freely take up employment in another member state. You are therefore able to hire someone from Germany as if he or she is a national within your own country.

#3. Check the ID. Is it real? Is it still valid?

Passports and ID’s are constantly being marked with new and special features, making it increasingly difficult to copy and falsify these documents. However, it remains an absolute necessity to check these documents for authenticity. ID’s can be falsified in a variety of ways; usually unauthorised persons change or add data to a legal document, therefore making it illegal. These documents, often stolen, are then sold on.

In order to check whether the documents have been tampered with, you can do two checks.

– Is the ID damaged?

You can then not accept it and the employee can not come work for you. Damage may include cuts or glue, illegible or missing sections, manual corrections, air bubbles in the cover sheet, et cetera.

– Is the font of the Machine Readable Zone correct?

German documents, as is the case for many countries, have an identity page where data is encoded in an optical character recognition format. This exists of a strip of characters that computers with a camera and suitable software can directly read. This machine-readable zone (MRZ) is usually at the bottom of an identity page at the beginning of a passport. For Germany, it starts with the letters P>D. The P stands for ‘Pass’, while the D stands for ‘Deutschland’. This differs from other European passports, which generally adopt an alpha-3-country code – in which case ‘DEU’ would be far more logical.

The font for this sequence of data is OCR-B, which stands for Optical Character Recognition-B. Beyond its wide use for the human readable digits in barcodes and bank cards, it is the chosen font for identification purposes because it is very suitable for digital recognition and relatively difficult to copy. Here’s the important bit: if the characters and numbers within the MRZ are of exactly the same type and size, the ID is likely not to be tampered with.

If the original German characters are used in the document in any way, it is a fake.

Germany characters such as the umlaut and the sharp s (ß) are not directly used in OCR-B, but are described. That’s how German free-scoring striker Thomas Müller becomes Thomas Mueller and Groß becomes Gross. If the original German characters are used in the document in any way, it is a fake.

That’s how in German passports, free-scoring striker Thomas Müller becomes Thomas Mueller.

Pay extra attention to number 7 (with a slight arch), number 3 (with a sharp top and a round bottom) and number 4 (open at the rear). If in any case the characters and numbers look suspicious, you can not accept the document as a valid one. Also, if the name in the MRZ does not match the name mentioned under personal data, you cannot accept the document. Lastly, check the ID’s date to see if it is still valid.

Tip: All images of all types of valid German documents are listed here. Consult this website if you want to know whether your potential employee’s proof of identity looks correct.

#4. Check whether the ID matches with the employee.

It may sound like a common practice, but it exists of three steps you simply cannot miss. Again: if you can not match the ID with the employee, you cannot allow them to work for you.

  • Check whether you recognise the person who hands you the ID through the photograph on the document.
  • Assess whether the listed height corresponds with the length stated in the document.
  • Assess whether the age corresponds with the age stated in the document.

Tip: In case of any doubt, ask the person of interest for his or her age, and see if it corresponds with the document. In addition you may ask the involved party for his or her autograph, to again see if it corresponds with the document’s signature.

#5. Make a copy of the document and keep it in your payroll administration.

This is the so-called legal retention obligation, which is part of the identification obligation. To comply with this, you must make a copy of the personal data on the original proof of identity, including the passport photo of the new employee. This copy of the proof of identity must then be included in the payroll administration, in the form of print or as an electronic file as an open document format (ODF) or a portable document format (PDF). Please note: this must also be done before the party involved starts his or her work. You must keep the copy for at least five years after the year in which he or she stops working for you.

Tip: If the ID expires after the employee has started working, it is no problem. As long as it is valid when he or she is hired.

Tip: If the employee is a temporary worker or a non-permanent-worker, you have to check his or her proof of identity, but you may not store a copy of the proof of identity in your records. After all, you are not the employee’s real employer; those duties lie with the agency that lends the worker to you.

Lastly, if your company is subject to a check by the police, tax authority, labour inspector or any other controlling body, you must offer your employee the opportunity to show an original and valid proof of identity (in that case, a drivers license also suffices).

This was part three of the four-part ToTalent series on Germany, its culture, job market and much more. Stay tuned for the fourth and final part later this week. 

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Jasper Spanjaart

Jasper Spanjaart

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