Under Austrian law, a recommendation letter must be truthful and cannot contain language that would aggravate the professional advancement of the employee. When truthfulness would result in less than lavish praise, employers must resort to a short-form recommendation letter, devoid of any information beyond the type of work performed and the duration of employment. This alternative, although accurate in its lack of praise, can aggravate an employee's career prospects.
In its final session before the general election, Parliament passed a bill which serves as a first step in harmonising the different legal regimes covering blue-collar and white-collar employees. However, not everyone is happy with this half-hearted harmonisation project – most notably, employer organisations – as they believe that the extended notice period for blue-collar workers will cost employers dearly.
As of May 1 2018 smoking in restaurants and bars will be prohibited. The restrictions on smoking in the workplace will also be tightened as of this date. However, the new provisions still afford some leeway to employers in that they can organise smoking breakrooms. As a consequence, the workplace may be more smoker friendly than pubs – who would have imagined that.
New legislation recently came into effect that aims to ease the process of reintegration into the workplace for employees who have been on extended sick leave and who would benefit from a reduced workload in order to aid rehabilitation and reconnect with the workplace. Although it is a well-meant initiative to curb the increase in long-term sickness, the legal framework reveals some major flaws.
Two recent amendments to the Labour Relations Act benefit the legal status of works councils and are geared towards increasing older employees' job prospects. In particular, the term of office for members of a works council has been extended from four to five years. Works council members' entitlement to educational leave has also been extended. Further, the special treatment of employees who start employment at age 50 or older has been abolished.
The new government recently presented its government programme, which sets out its framework and indicates the legislative projects that it intends to implement over the coming five years. As part of the programme, the government hopes to have 100% of the national electricity supply come from renewable sources by 2030. However, as there are no details on how this goal will be achieved, it remains to be seen what changes the energy sector will face.
E-Control recently published a draft of the amendment of the Gas Market Model Ordinance 2017. The envisaged amendment – and especially the newly implemented capacity conversion service – resolves the capacity mismatch issue by compensating network users for the economic disadvantages that arise from having to buy double capacity due to the bundling regime at interconnection points.
After four months of negotiations, the Austrian National Council has finally reached an agreement on the amendment of the Green Electricity Act. The required two-thirds majority was reached by a last-minute agreement between the coalition parties and the Green Party. The aim of the new legislation is to increase the percentage of green electricity and expand renewable energy in Austria.
Following an Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators decision which foresees a split of the Austrian-German electricity market, the Austrian National Regulatory Authority, E-Control and the Austrian transmission system operators have announced that they plan to exhaust all legal possibilities in order to appeal the decision.
Although the long-awaited proposal to amend the Green Electricity Act was recently published, those who expected it to expand renewable energy in Austria will be disappointed and must patiently await the envisaged expansive amendment to the act. That said, the amendment package has brought some hope for new investments.
The first update and review of Austria's national water management planning instrument has revealed that the objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive will be achieved neither to their full extent nor in a timely manner. Nonetheless, the National Water Management Plan 2015 is a useful and comprehensive document that contains extensive information for all stakeholders and sets out the next steps to achieve the ultimate goal of restoring Austria's water bodies.
The Constitutional Court recently reached a landmark decision and overturned the Federal Administrative Court decision which had rejected the permit for a third runway at Vienna International Airport on the grounds of climate protection and land use. This decision is significant in that it has far-reaching consequences for many other projects beyond the scope of the third runway. It is also relevant to Austria as a business hub.
The Federal Administrative Court recently hindered the plans for a third runway to be built at Vienna Airport, explaining that the positive aspects of the project could not justify the extra carbon dioxide pollution. The decision was reached despite the court conceding to the fact that air traffic will increase in the future and thus a third runway is necessary. This may be the first time that any court worldwide has rejected a project due to climate protection.
The Federal Administrative Court recently addressed whether the party to a winning project in a conflict procedure was entitled to claim rights in the environmental impact assessment for the inferior project. The court ruled that, on the one hand, the legal standing of a party in a conflict procedure is not strictly restricted to that procedure. On the other hand, the court found that being party to a conflict procedure does not guarantee unlimited legal standing in the approval procedure of the other project.
The Federal Administrative Court recently confirmed that neighbours in earlier cases can enforce an environmental impact assessment only in subsequent approval proceedings. Further, the court has clarified that neighbours do not have party status in declaratory decision proceedings. As the legislature had failed to regulate earlier cases, this decision is a valuable contribution to procedural law.
In general, a healthcare professional may testify on observations made in respect of a patient only if he or she has been released from the obligation of confidentiality by the patient personally. However, there are a few limited exceptions to this general rule. The Supreme Court carefully applied these exemptions in a recent decision on the hypothetical release by a deceased person.
Providing patients with insufficient medical information may impede their ability to give informed consent to proposed medical treatments and thus may trigger the tort liability of physicians or healthcare institutions. However, a March 2017 Supreme Court decision has reduced the scope of the medical information that must be provided to patients.
Public pharmacies are heavily regulated in Austria. The opening of new (or the relocation of existing) pharmacies is subject to approval by the district authority. Approval will be granted only if there exists a viable need for the new public pharmacy. In a recent case, two courts ignored a 2016 amendment to Section 10 of the Pharmacies Act, which allowed a deviation from the strict 5,500 person limit set out therein.
After 14 months of negotiations between the Federation of Austrian Social Security Institutions and the pharmaceutical industry, and lengthy discussions within the government coalition, Parliament recently adopted a new price cap for expensive medicinal products and a new price regime for generics and biosimilars. The government, social security institutions and the legislature hope that these amendments will create further savings in relation to expenses for medicinal products.
The Vienna Higher Regional Court recently provided valuable conclusions about the interpretation of Article 3(a) of the Supplementary Protection Certificate Regulation – specifically, whether a functional identification of an active ingredient in a basic patent is sufficient to assess whether a product can be considered as "protected by a basic patent in force".
Approximately one year before the General Data Protection Regulation will come fully into force, the Austrian legislature has officially started a six-week consultation process for the national Data Protection Amendment Act 2018. If and to what extent the legislature will make use of the competencies provided for by the 'opening clauses' in the General Data Protection Regulation is highly relevant to companies, and the amendment act has answered this question.
A draft law amending the Federal Act against Unfair Competition 1984 and the Price Labelling Act was recently published for public consultation. The draft law intends to introduce a ban on most-favoured nation clauses in contracts between online travel agencies and hotel operators. Commercially, the draft law puts online travel agencies' business model at risk and may even deter innovation and investments beyond this niche industry.
The Austrian registry operator recently initiated the launch process for approximately 5,000 one and two-character domain names under the top-level domain (TLD) '.at'. Owners of trademarks consisting of one or two characters should consider requesting delegation of their short trademarks as domains under the '.at' TLD in order to use them or at least prevent unauthorised third parties from taking advantage of their marks.
Employers are increasingly keen to introduce a 'bring your own device' (BYOD) policy, which allows them to assign company device management to employees and, by doing so, save manpower and costs on device support and maintenance. However, there is a downside: BYOD involves allowing employees to access (sometimes sensitive) company data through their private devices.
The European Commission recently published a new regulation on the measures applicable to the notification of personal data breaches under the EU Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications. When the regulation enters into force, national rules that are in contradiction to European law must cease to apply. This raises some substantial questions with regard to the application of the Austrian Telecommunications Act.