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 Supreme Court recently ruled on the thin line between the freedoms to provide services afforded under EU law and member states' legislation to contain social dumping, which can be extended to employers of other member states when they perform their services abroad. The decision clarifies that foreign minimum wage legislation will be avoided where its application poses an undue burden on employers and where it can be guaranteed that the purpose of minimum wage legislation is not undermined.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that a retirement policy which makes redundant all employees who are entitled to early retirement is discriminatory and, as a direct form of age discrimination, cannot be justified by claiming that such a policy amounts to a socially compatible form of redundancy. The decision indicates that the requirement to consider social selection and weigh social hardship can also qualify as a justification for age discrimination.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that the wearing of a niqab need not be tolerated by an employer because, although religious dress is protected under anti-discrimination legislation, it is one of the basic rules of interpersonal communication that facial expressions be visible. Further, although an employer's prohibition on religious dress amounts to direct religious discrimination, this ban can be justified as an occupational requirement.
In a recent decision with potentially far-reaching consequences, the Court of Appeals for the Vienna Circuit ruled that a peculiar provision in the Act on Rest Periods violates EU law and must therefore be disregarded by the courts. The court of appeals gave leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court hears the case and upholds the court of appeal's decision, Austrian employees may soon celebrate yet another public holiday.
The Supreme Court recently sought to set the standard for an employer's right to introduce or enforce a dress code. Basing its decision on the privacy rights under the Civil Code and the European Convention on Human Rights, the court clarified that an employee's outer appearance is his or her private affair, and that the test to be applied as to where this privacy ends is trustworthiness. Although clear-cut in theory, the guidance leaves considerable leeway for interpretation.
The new year has brought some substantive changes in employment legislation, including new minimum working time reductions for parental part-time work and new requirements for job offers under which employers must first offer job openings to part-time employees. Further changes include new laws and regulations in relation to non-compete agreements, all-in salaries and overtime and working time provisions.
Imagine that a foreign entity employing Austrian staff in Austria asks its Austrian employees to sign a standard employment agreement template and then tries to terminate one of those employment relationships under Austrian law. Those were the facts underlying a recent Supreme Court decision, wherein the court concluded that the termination of an employment relationship was governed by the laws of the foreign employer, not Austrian law.
The Supreme Court recently ruled on whether and how an employer can request that employees submit to alcohol testing. The court qualified the employer's unannounced breathalyser tests as a control measure that affected human dignity and thus required the works council's prior consent. This decision has left some questions for employers, as it is almost impossible to comply with strict safety standards without unannounced testing.
For decades it was settled case law that compensating (or promising to compensate) a new hire for contractual penalties owed by the employee to his or her former competitor employer for breaching a non-compete clause amounted to anti-competitive practice, and both the former employee and new employer were liable under the Unfair Competition Act. However, the Supreme Court recently reversed this case law.
In line with the EU Transfer of Undertakings Directive, share sales do not trigger the works council's information or consultation rights. However, the provisions transposing the EU directive into Austrian law are not the only statutory rules that must be observed when it comes to share sales. As such, share sales with substantial operational changes trigger works council rights that far exceed those that apply under the EU directive.
In a recent decision the Supreme Court had to consider whether activities performed during an employee's sick leave that would not typically be regarded as adequate conduct were acceptable. The Supreme Court confirmed the lower courts' decisions and opined that the plaintiff had only followed his doctor's instructions and that he could rely on this advice.
The Supreme Court has upheld a lower court decision which dismissed an employer's claim that an employee should be liable for surveillance costs incurred by his employer. The decision reminds employers to think twice before incurring costs for detective surveillance of employees, as they can claim those costs from employees only where surveillance confirms misconduct and the misconduct warrants a valid, actionable claim.
Austrian law generally allows for imputation or attribution of knowledge to a principal where an agent, in the course of performing that task, learns something about a third party that has legal relevance to the principal's relationship with that third party. Employers should establish functioning reporting lines or risk knowledge being imputed to their detriment.
Under Austrian law, employees are granted protection against a termination of employment that lacks social justification. This means that employees can challenge their termination before the courts if it results in detrimental consequences that exceed the usual negative effects of a termination. The Supreme Court recently summed up the previous case law on the issue and specified what amounts to 'unusual' consequences.
In recent years, extended education-oriented programmes (eg, for educational leave and other subsidised leaves of absence) have set a precedent for allowing employees to find a work-life balance in an increasingly competitive work environment. Employees who are dismissed because of their intention to take educational or family care leave, or because of the actual leave taken, can challenge the dismissal as unfair.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that dismissal of an employee because of his or her national origin is deemed to constitute unlawful workplace discrimination based on ethnic grounds. Employers would be well advised to communicate clearly to staff that harassment, including offhand remarks or other verbal conduct, directed towards any ethnic or national group is unlawful.