Fairness als neue Arbeitgeberpflicht

Arbeitgeber sehen sich in Deutschland mit einer neuen Rechtspflicht konfrontiert: Laut Bundesarbeitsgericht müssen Verträge mit Arbeitnehmern „fair verhandelt“ werden, um wirksam zu sein.

Im entschiedenen Fall hatte eine Reinigungskraft in ihrer Privatwohnung einen Aufhebungsvertrag mit ihrem Arbeitgeber abgeschlossen – darin wurde die sofortige Beendigung ihres Arbeitsverhältnisses ohne Zahlung einer Abfindung vereinbart. Im Nachhinein focht die Arbeitnehmerin den Vertrag wegen Irrtums, arglistiger Täuschung und widerrechtlicher Drohung an und widerrief ihn hilfsweise zusätzlich. Sie gab an, an dem Tag krank gewesen zu sein und den Vertrag unter Druck unterzeichnet zu haben. Tatsächlich hielt die Vereinbarung vor dem Bundesarbeitsgericht nicht (Az.: 6 AZR 75/18).

Zwar verwarfen die Richter in ihrer Entscheidung sämtliche Argumente der Klägerin – weder habe sie ein Widerrufsrecht, weil der Vertrag außerhalb der Geschäftsräume des Arbeitgebers geschlossen worden sei, noch habe ein Grund zur Anfechtung des Vertrages bestanden. Dadurch erhalten Arbeitgeber nun die Sicherheit, dass in arbeitsrechtliche Verträge kein Haustürgeschäft hineininterpretiert werden könne. Gleichwohl, so das Bundesarbeitsgericht weiter, sei der Vertrag voraussichtlich nicht wirksam. Die Vorinstanz müsse prüfen, ob beim Abschluss des Aufhebungsvertrags „das Gebot fairen Verhandelns“ beachtet worden sei.

Mit der Entscheidung haben die Erfurter Richter eine neue Möglichkeit geschaffen, arbeitsrechtliche Verträge in Frage zu stellen. Die Pflicht zu fairem Verhandeln wurde im Arbeitsrecht bislang noch nie zur Begründung herangezogen. Durch die neue Argumentation wird ein – zwangsläufig subjektives – Fairness-Empfinden zum Gradmesser für die Wirksamkeit eines Vertragsabschlusses.

Schon bisher konnte das Ausnutzen einer psychischen Drucksituation einen Vertrag angreifbar machen – aber nur, wenn es dabei zu einer widerrechtlichen Drohung kam, die im vorliegenden Fall jedoch gerade verneint wurde. Mit seiner Entscheidung geht das Bundesarbeitsgericht über das bisherige Verbot unzulässiger Verhaltensweisen hinaus und fordert für die Wirksamkeit von Verträgen nun die aktive Einhaltung des Gebots fairen Verhandelns.

Ein solches allgemeines Fairnessgebot führt zu erheblicher Rechtsunsicherheit, da „Fairness“ stets eine Frage der Perspektive ist. Jeder Verhandler weiß, dass es keinen objektiven Fairness-Begriff gibt. Es muss deshalb gehofft werden, dass die – noch ausstehende – Urteilsbegründung in den Details für mehr Klarheit sorgt.

 

Religious discrimination claim – whose religion?

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held that where an employer (or individuals on behalf of the employer) acts because of their own religion or belief, this may not lead to an employee bringing a successful claim for direct discrimination on grounds of religion or belief. The EAT upheld the employer’s appeal, overturning the Employment Tribunal decision.

The case involved a teacher at a nursery run in accordance with ultra-orthodox Jewish principles, who was dismissed after complaints made by parents who were aware that she was cohabiting with her partner. At a meeting, the headteacher and the nursery’s managing director expressed the view that cohabitation outside marriage was wrong, and suggested that a potential solution would be for the employee to state that she was no longer living with her boyfriend, so that they could tell parents that this was what she had informed them. However, she refused to do this and following disciplinary proceedings she was dismissed. The letter of dismissal included a number of grounds for dismissal: “acting in contravention of the nursery’s culture, ethos and religious beliefs”; damaging the nursery’s reputation; and financial detriment from parents threatening to withdraw their children. The employee brought claims of direct discrimination and harassment on the ground of sex, and direct and indirect discrimination claims on the ground of religion or belief.

The Employment Tribunal upheld all the claims and the nursery appealed. The EAT allowed the appeals against the findings of direct and indirect religion or belief discrimination, but upheld the Employment Tribunal decision that the claims of direct sex discrimination and harassment on the grounds of the claimants sex could stand.

The EAT found that the tribunal had erred by concluding that a direct discrimination claim could arise from the employer acting because of its own religion or belief. It referred to the case of Lee v Ashers Baking Co Limited [2018] in which a bakery had refused to supply a cake iced with the message “support gay marriage” because of its owners’ objections on religious grounds to gay marriage.  The purpose of discrimination law is the protection of a person who has a protected characteristic from less favourable treatment because of that characteristic, not the protection of persons without that protected characteristic from less favourable treatment because of a protected characteristic of the discriminator.  The EAT commented that it is an important principle of discrimination law that a discriminator’s motive for less favourable treatment is immaterial.  Any direct discrimination claim based on the discriminator’s own protected characteristic would be doomed to fail, as a discriminator acting because of their own belief would act in the same way regardless of who was affected.   The EAT also rejected the argument relating to associative discrimination.  It pointed out that no claim asserting associative discrimination rests on the premise that the discriminator is acting because of its own protected characteristic.  Finally in relation to the direct discrimination claim, although the EAT was not required to do so, it went on to consider whether the nursery had any religious occupational requirement. It held that the tribunal had been right to find that there was no genuine occupational requirement, either for the employee not to cohabit or that she should not communicate her views to parents.

An indirect discrimination arises where an employer imposes a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) which puts the claimant at a disadvantage. The tribunal had found that the nursery applied a PCP of requiring the employee to be prepared to make a dishonest statement about her private life in order to remain employed. The EAT held that the tribunal had erred in making this finding.  Whilst acknowledging that where an action arises from conduct (and not a formal statement of practice or policy), the line between a PCP and a simple response to events can be difficult to draw. In this case there was no direct evidence that this was anything other than an ad hoc measure and insufficient evidence to allow an inference that it was a PCP.  As no PCP could be identified, there could be no claim of indirect discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.  In any event even if the PCP did stand, the EAT held that any comparator group would have been disadvantaged in equal measure by being required to lie about their religion beliefs in order to retain their employment.

The remaining claims of direct discrimination and harassment on grounds of sex were remitted to the tribunal to consider remedy.

Generalanwalt am EuGH fordert allgemeine Arbeitszeiterfassung

Nach den Schlussanträgen des Generalanwalts am Europäischen Gerichtshof (EuGH) sollen Unternehmen künftig verpflichtet sein, ein System zur Erfassung der täglichen Arbeitszeit ihrer Mitarbeiter einzuführen (Schlussanträge v. 31.01.2019, Az. C-55/18). Die dabei gemeinte Arbeitszeit umfasst den Zeitraum der tatsächlichen Verrichtung der Arbeitsleistung ohne Ruhepausen.

Schon jetzt müssen Unternehmen aufgrund des Arbeitszeitgesetzes jede Arbeitszeit erfassen, die die regelmäßig zulässige werktägliche Arbeitszeit der Mitarbeiter von acht Stunden überschreitet oder auf Sonn- und Feiertage entfällt (§ 16 Abs. 2 Arbeitszeitgesetz); andernfalls droht eine Geldbuße von bis zu 15.000 Euro. Dagegen sind Unternehmen in Deutschland nicht generell verpflichtet, die werktägliche Arbeitszeit von acht Stunden oder weniger zu dokumentieren.

In einem aktuellen Fall des EuGH (“Federación de Servicios de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) gegen Deutsche Bank SAE” (C‑55/18)) verlangt die spanische Gewerkschaft CCOO nun festzustellen, dass die Deutsche Bank ein generelles Arbeitszeiterfassungssystem einführen müsse, um die Überprüfung der Einhaltung der vereinbarten Arbeitszeit zu ermöglichen. Dazu verpflichte auch die Charta der Grundrechte der EU sowie die EU-Arbeitszeitrichtlinie.

Der EuGH-Generalanwalts schloss sich in seinen Schlussanträgen dieser Auffassung an und sieht eine generelle Arbeitszeiterfassung als unabdingbare Voraussetzung für die Überprüfbarkeit der Einhaltung von Arbeitszeitregeln. Nationale Rechtsvorschriften, die eine solche Verpflichtung nicht vorsehen, seien unionsrechtswidrig und dürften nicht mehr angewendet werden. Vielmehr müssten die entsprechenden Mitgliedstaaten der EU eine gesetzliche Regelung schaffen, durch die Unternehmen zur Einführung eines Systems zur Erfassung der täglichen effektiven Arbeitszeit verpflichtet werden.

Wenn der EuGH den Schlussanträgen des Generalanwalts folgt, müssen Unternehmen umfassende Arbeitszeiterfassungssysteme einführen oder bestehende Systeme so erweitern, dass die arbeitsschutzrechtliche Arbeitszeit umfassend dokumentiert wird. Ein etwaig existierender Betriebsrat ist hierbei zu beteiligen.

La nouvelle Loi sur l’équité salariale s’en vient

L’équité salariale occupe une place importante dans l’actualité québécoise et canadienne depuis plusieurs mois. En effet, une importante saga judiciaire s’est terminée en mai 2018 lorsque la Cour suprême a décidé qu’une loi sur l’équité salariale, adoptée par une législature provinciale ou fédérale, ne pouvait refuser aux femmes l’accès à des ajustements rétroactifs en cas de discrimination salariale. Du coup, certaines dispositions de la Loi sur l’équité salariale (LÉS) québécoise étaient déclarées inconstitutionnelles.

Comme d’habitude en pareilles circonstances, le législateur québécois a été invité à retourner sur la planche à dessin et à proposer une nouvelle mouture de la LÉS qui tienne compte des paramètres dorénavant imposés par le plus haut tribunal au pays. C’est ainsi que le Ministre du travail, de l’emploi et de la Solidarité sociale du Québec a déposé, en date du 12 février 2019, le Projet de loi 10 « Loi modifiant la Loi sur l’équité salariale afin principalement d’améliorer l’évaluation du maintien de l’équité salariale ».

Essentiellement, le projet de loi vise à modifier la date à compter de laquelle les ajustements déterminés à la suite d’une évaluation du maintien de l’équité salariale sont dus. Pour ce faire, on prévoit que chaque ajustement sera dû à compter de la date de l’événement l’ayant généré et on précise les modalités de versement des ajustements.

Par ailleurs, le processus de traitement des plaintes est également modifié et de nouvelles obligations d’assistance aux salarié(e)s sont imposées à la CNESST.

L’adoption de ce Projet de loi est imminente : la date butoir imposée par la Cour suprême tombe le 10 mai 2019. Les employeurs québécois ont donc tout intérêt à se préparer en conséquence. L’exécution d’un exercice « informel » d’équité salariale, dans le but de déterminer l’exposition de votre organisation à un quelconque risque financier en lien avec des ajustements salariaux, pourrait s’avérer utile afin d’éviter de mauvaises surprises. À cet égard, notons que les impacts financiers appréhendés du Projet de loi se chiffrent, selon certains, à plus ou moins 565,6 millions !

Quoi qu’il en soit, nous suivrons le cheminement du Projet de loi 10 avec intérêt et nous vous tiendrons au courant de tout développement important.

New York State and New York City employers face new compliance requirements

Recently, New York State and New York City have continued the trend of enacting employee-friendly legislation and issuing broad enforcement guidance under their respective employment laws and regulations.  New York State and New York City employers should be aware of the following recent developments from 2018 and early 2019, and should take action to review and update their practices and policies for compliance.

New York City lactation room and policy laws — new policy requirement

Federal and New York State laws already require employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a room other than a bathroom where a nursing employee can express breast milk in privacy.  New York City recently passed two laws expanding those rights.  Effective March 18, 2019, New York City employers will be subject to additional specific requirements regarding the lactation room that must be made available to nursing mothers.  New York State law already requires that the lactation room be private, well-lit, and contain, at a minimum, a chair and small table, desk, counter, or other flat surface.  The New York City law will require additional amenities in the lactation room, including an electrical outlet and nearby access to running water, and that the employer provide a refrigerator suitable for breast milk storage in reasonable proximity to the employee’s work area.  Also effective March 18, 2019, New York City employers will be required to implement a written lactation room policy that meets specified requirements, and provide a copy of the policy to all employees upon hiring.  The policy must include a statement that employees have the right to request a lactation room, and identify a process by which employees may make such request (which process must meet certain minimum requirements).

“Cooperative Dialogue” amendments to New York City Human Rights Law

Effective October 15, 2018, New York City amended its Human Rights Law to require covered employers to engage in a “cooperative dialogue” with individuals who may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation related to religious beliefs, disability, pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, or because the employee was a victim of domestic violence, sex offenses, or stalking.  The law requires that covered employers follow certain procedures when they receive a request for an accommodation, or when they have notice that an individual may need an accommodation, including the following: Continue reading

The beginning of a revolution (by the French lower courts) ?

French President Emmanuel Macron implemented a significant reform of the French employment code in late 2017, with the intention of providing employers greater flexibility and predictability in managing labour relations.

One of the most controversial measures was the creation of a grid applicable to the amount of indemnities due to employees for unfair dismissal, setting minima and maxima as a function of the length of service of the employee and the headcount of the employing entity.

Prior to the adoption of the grid, courts were free to determine the amount of damages payable to unfairly dismissed employees based on the loss suffered by the employee (with a minimum of 6 months’ salary for employees with at least two years of service in a company employing at least 11 employees and no cap).  Under the new system, French courts are required to determine the amount of damages based on the loss suffered, but taking into account both a floor and a ceiling (which is fixed at 20 months’ salary for employees with at least 30 years of service).

At the time of the reform, a number of voices were raised against this measure, and some employees’ lawyers continue to challenge the validity of t provision of the French employment code, arguing that the grid is incompatible with Convention no. 158 of the ILO (International Labour Organisation) and the European Social Charter.

Article 10 of Convention no. 158 of the ILO provides that if the courts “find that termination is unjustified and if they are not empowered or do not find it practicable, in accordance with national law and practice, to declare the termination invalid and/or order or propose reinstatement of the worker, they shall be empowered to order payment of adequate compensation or such other relief as may be deemed appropriate”.

Similarly, Article 24 of the European Social Charter provides that the parties thereto undertake to recognize “the right of workers whose employment is terminated without a valid reason to adequate compensation or other appropriate relief”.

Consequently, employees’ lawyers have claimed that the dismissal indemnity grid could fail to provide sufficient (or total) reparation of the loss suffered by the employee, in breach of such international law rules acknowledged by France.

The number of published decisions to date in which such argument has been made remains limited, due to (i) the fact that the grid applies only to dismissals notified to employees after the date of the reform (late 2017), (ii) the length of proceedings before French employment tribunals, and (iii) the fact that not all employees’ lawyers have made use of such argument.

To our knowledge, only one employment tribunal (Le Mans) has published a decision rejecting such an argument by employees’ lawyers and strictly applying the new rules set forth in the French employment code.

The Caen employment tribunal, in a decision dated December 2018 and published very recently, took a more nuanced view, holding that the employee did not provide evidence of actual damages exceeding the amount to which the employee would be entitled on the basis of the amounts determined using the grid.

However, four other employment tribunals (Troyes, Amiens, Lyon and Grenoble) have ruled that the dismissal indemnity grid is in contradiction with the international undertakings of France. In these cases (all published in December 2018), the courts ordered the employing entities to pay an indemnity which the court set independently from the grid.

Needless to say, the employers will appeal against these decisions, and against any similar rulings which are likely to be issued by other lower courts. Ultimately, it will be up to the French Supreme Court to give a final say. In the meantime, the predictability promised to French employers is still limited.

No Deal arrangements for EU citizens

One of the many outstanding issues for immigration lawyers was how EU citizens would be able to enter the UK after 29 March 2019 in the event of a “no deal” scenario. Whilst a new immigration system is due to come into force in 2021, the situation remained unclear as to what would happen to any EU citizen seeking to enter the UK after the UK had left the EU in March in the event of a no deal.  On 28 January 2019, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid set out the provisions for EU citizens coming to the UK after the EU exit.

The Home Secretary’s announcement made it clear that the freedom of movement of EU citizens would end and a new scheme would immediately be imposed. A new Immigration Bill has been introduced to cover the period following the departure from the EU but before the new skills based immigration system comes into force in January 2021.

During this transitional period EEA citizens and their family members would still be able to come to the UK to visit, work or study for a period of less than three months. If they wish to stay longer than 3 months then they will need to apply for European Temporary Leave to Remain.  This will require an online application together with a payment of a fee, the level of which has yet to be announced.  It will also require the applicant to prove their identity and declare any criminal convictions.   The Temporary Leave to Remain allows the individual to stay in the UK for 36 months from the date of their application.  It does not give indefinite leave to remain or lead to status under the EU Settlement Scheme.  If they wish to stay longer than the 3 years, then they will need to make a further application under the plan for the skills based immigration system, proposals for which were published in December.  It is hoped that these transitional measures represent a practical approach which minimises disruption and ensures the UK stays open for business in the event of a no-deal.

Those citizens who are in the UK before 29 March 2019 retain the right to apply for Settled Status or Pre-Settled Status under the EU Settlement Scheme. If the Withdrawal Agreement is signed then any EU citizen arriving in the UK until December 2020 would retain this right. Whilst the Home Secretary’s announcement has provided clarity on the no deal scenario, much still remains dependant on any agreement reached before 29 March.

Settled status for EU citizens

The EU Settlement Scheme, which processes applications of EU citizens living in the UK to allow them to remain in the UK after Brexit, has gone live.

From 21 January 2019 a public test phase will run for individuals who are resident EU citizens (with a valid EU passport) or non-EU citizen family members of EU citizens (with a biometric residence card) . The Scheme will open fully on 30 March 2019.

The EU Settlement Scheme applies to EU citizens already in the UK prior to 29 March 2019, or those who enter before the end of the transition period (assuming there is one).  It allows them to apply for settled status or pre-settled status.  An individual can apply for settled status where they have lived in the UK for a continuous 5 year period  (although they can have a period of 12 months abroad for childbirth, a serious illness, study or an overseas work posting).  For those with less than 5 years continuous residence, an application can be made for pre-settled status.  If the individual stays in the UK for a further 5 years then they can make an application for settled status from that date.  Settled Status will mean the individual can continue living and working in the UK after December 2020.

The Scheme has already been rolled out on a trial basis from 28 August 2018. This involved a private phase of testing for health service trusts and universities in North West England. During that period the Home Office received 29,987 applications and 27,211 decisions were made.

The application is made by way of a smartphone app on an Android phone and initially cost £65 for those over 16 and £32.50 for children. However, the Government subsequently stated that it will be abolishing the fee for the Settlement Scheme when it is generally opened on 30 March 2019. Those who have already made their applications and paid the fee will be eligible for a refund and further details on this will follow. The process was free in any event if the citizen already has indefinite leave to remain the UK or has a valid UK permanent residence document, or for those after April 2019 who are applying to move from pre-settled status to settled status.  Whilst the app is intended to be simple to use and to include harmonising information from different government departments, such as HMRC, there is concern that vulnerable groups with limited IT skills or language skills may have difficulty applying.

Citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland are not eligible to apply during this public test phase. They will be able to apply when the scheme is fully open by 30 March 2019.

Currently the Scheme is due to operate until June 2021 from which point any such citizens will be subject to new Immigration Rules. However, definite timings may depend on whether the UK leaves the EU on a “no deal”.

More uncertainty follows the Italian Constitutional Court’s partial repeal of the Jobs Act

Thanks to the passage of the Dignity Decree by the Italian Parliament last summer and the recent decision of Italy’s Constitutional Court, the employment law regime in Italy has changed direction. The problem is that the direction it has taken is uncertain, creating concern both for employers and employees. The current situation is that parts of the Jobs Act – the major employment law reform in Italy that came into force in 2014/2015 –  have been struck down either by the new legislation or by the court decision and in certain areas a legal vacuum has been created. To fill the void, a political solution may be required.

As noted in my last Blog entry of 2018 (See Italian Constitutional Court partially repeals Jobs Act rules – What’s next? Link), the Italian Constitutional Court handed down a major decision that declared unconstitutional the compensation rules set out in the Jobs Act for claims of unlawful dismissal on the grounds that these rules were not in line with the principles of “reasonableness and equality” and that they were in conflict with the concept of “protection of work” as granted by articles 4 and 35 of the Italian Constitution.

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What happens a firm’s internal regulations following a TUPE transfer ?

Under French employment law, the application of TUPE regulations triggers specific consequences not only with regard to an employee’s employment contract, which is transferred automatically by operation of law, but also on the employees’ collective status.

In this respect, a recent decision of the French Supreme Court has specified what happens to a company’s internal regulations (règlement intérieur) in the event of a TUPE transfer.

It should be recalled that the promulgation of internal regulations is compulsory in companies employing at least 20 employees and the purpose of such document is to cover specific topics, essentially health and safety rules, discipline and rules applicable to sexual and moral harassment.  In addition to such compulsory topics, any policies implemented internally within companies the breach of which may lead to disciplinary sanctions also requires the specific procedure of internal regulations to be followed.

Until such recent decision, in the case of a TUPE transfer, as the law was silent on the subject, a company’s internal regulations were considered as following the regime applicable more generally to any unilateral undertakings and were automatically transferred to the new employing entity.

In a recent decision of 17th October 2018, the French Supreme Court held for the first time, in a situation in which employees were transferred to a newly incorporated entity, that such entity could not apply the internal regulations of the initial employing entity and that such document was no longer enforceable against the transferred employees.  In so deciding, the Supreme Court considered that a company’s internal regulations are a document of a specific nature, i.e., a regulatory document which cannot be assimilated to other unilateral undertakings of the employer.

On this basis, the Supreme Court held that in the case of a TUPE transfer, the internal regulations do not transfer to the new employing entity and that it is up to the new employing entity to implement its own internal regulations following the transfer.

Although the Supreme Court did not deal with this topic, this decision raises the more general question of the transfer of company policies when TUPE regulations apply. Logically, it would appear to be the case that for those policies which have been implemented under the same procedure as internal regulations, the decision would also be relevant and that the new employing entity would be required to reiterate them after the transfer in order for the policies to continue to apply.  But what about other policies? Until further clarity is obtained on the issue and to be on a safe side, it may be prudent to reiterate them as well after the transfer.

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