The Supreme Court recently rendered its first judgment on the admissibility of the use of electronic mailboxes, which are exclusively incorporated and only accessible via the e-banking system of a credit institution for serving client account notices and statements to consumers. This ruling will significantly affect Austrian banking practice.
The Insolvency Code was recently amended in response to the introduction of the EU Insolvency Regulation, creating – for the first time – specific rules for the insolvency of corporate groups in Austria. From a practical standpoint, this approach is welcome, as it may lead to faster and more efficient insolvency proceedings. It remains to be seen how the new rules will affect insolvency practice and whether coordination proceedings according to the EU regulation will be applied in practice.
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.
In the run up to the recent snap elections, Parliament passed a bill exempting rent agreements for residential leases from stamp duty. The stamp duty on non-residential leases – in particular, commercial and retail leases – remains unchanged. However, these leases are being re-evaluated due to recent case law from the tax authorities.
Parliament recently transposed parts of EU Directive 2015/2436 into national law. Most important is the introduction of certification marks, which did not previously exist under Austrian law. Other provisions of the bill concern the division of trademark applications, the shortening of the validity period of a registration and the reduction of the registration fee.
Following the Fourth Anti-money Laundering (AML) Directive coming into force, Austria transposed the directive into law through two major legislative acts. This update provides an overview of the effects and obligations arising from the implementation of the Fourth AML Directive – in particular, the due diligence that banks will have to undertake on prospective clients.
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.
In some cases of insolvency, it may be necessary to take special measures which affect the debtor or third parties in order to prevent the insolvent assets from diminishing. These cases are governed by Section 78 of the Insolvency Code, which offers the possibility of ordering individual protective measures with regard to the debtor and third parties. In particular, recent case law has extended the scope of application of these protective measures.
In 2015 Austria introduced an act which allows individuals, under certain conditions, to challenge laws before the Constitutional Court as unconstitutional. This gave hope to many landlords, which saw this as a tool to challenge the existing rent control regulations. The Constitutional Court recently handed down two new decisions on the same matter with surprising results.
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.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that the producer of a photograph who marks his or her name in the photograph's metadata must be credited as the producer on copies of the photograph made by other persons and intended for distribution. This judgment is good news for producers of digital photographs who wish to safeguard their copyright. Persons reproducing and distributing digital photographs should routinely check the metadata to ensure that the producer's name is listed on any reproduction.
The Vienna International Arbitral Centre (VIAC) recently obtained the right to administer domestic cases. The new law has received a warm welcome in Austria and is another sign of the quality of the VIAC's work and the confidence in its services. The VIAC has already established a working group to implement the proposed changes into the Rules of Arbitration and Conciliation in order to reflect this positive development.
Following a period of legal uncertainty and controversy, the Supreme Court has provided answers to the question of whether, against the backdrop of negative reference interest rates, a bank can unilaterally floor an overall floating interest rate at 0.00001%. Although the Supreme Court's decision is disappointing, it held that a decision rendered on an individual basis may come to other conclusions. Thus, this decision is unlikely to be the final word on this issue.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether an arbitral award rendered in connection with licensing for the Austrian First Division Football League had to be set aside because of an alleged infringement of public policy. The decision is particularly interesting because the court had to tackle the sensitive issue of a possible infringement of substantive Austrian public policy in a situation where a party was forced to enter into an arbitration agreement with a dominant counterparty.
One of the Bankruptcy Code's aims is to allow trustworthy debtors the right to be discharged from debts that remain unpaid after insolvency proceedings. However, in practice, low-income debtors cannot always avail of residual debt relief. As such, the government recently introduced an amendment to the personal bankruptcy process in its 2017/2018 Modern Insolvency Law Culture of Failure working programme.
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.
Recent changes to the Insolvency Code have considerably expanded the obligations of shareholders in insolvency situations. For example, a new obligation has been introduced which requires majority shareholders in so-called 'companies without management' to file for insolvency. The language of these new provisions remains vague and provides significant flexibility in interpretation, which inevitably results in a number of legal uncertainties.
New almost EU-wide rules recently entered into force to support businesses in the recovery of debt from debtors in other EU countries. The regulation established a new procedure for creditors by providing common rules regarding jurisdiction and the procedure and conditions for freezing funds held by debtors in bank accounts located in the European Union. Austria has amended its Enforcement Code in order to provide the necessary framework for the procedures set out in the EU regulation.
The Supreme Court recently confirmed its view that the issuance of contradicting decisions in, on the one hand, infringement proceedings and, on the other hand, opposition proceedings by different panels of the same appellate court is no reason to admit an extraordinary appeal to the Supreme Court. The decision stresses that, in principle, the appellate courts must consider the issue of likelihood of confusion, and that it will step in only if the appealing party can demonstrate gross misjudgment.
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.