The federal government plans to create new corporate penalties and abandon the discretionary principle which has thus far applied in corporate prosecutions. Further, the upper limit of penalties will be significantly increased. At the same time, the government aims to establish legal requirements for internal investigations that provide an incentive for investigation support.
The Federal Court of Justice recently held that absolute prohibitions to participate in online price comparison tools imposed on distributors in selective distribution systems amount to a hardcore restriction under Article 4c of the EU Block Exemption Regulation on Vertical Restraints. A closer look at the German decision reveals some doubts as to its compatibility with two European Court of Justice decisions.
The Christian Democratic Union of Germany, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria and the Social Democratic Party of Germany recently concluded negotiations for a new grand coalition. The 177-page coalition agreement contains very specific proposals for changes to labour law, including with regard to the maximum duration of successive fixed-term employment contracts, substantial restrictions for fixed-term contracts and employees' entitlement to part-time work for a limited period.
The Pay Transparency Act bundles together some regulations and requirements that had already been established and is intended to close the adjusted gender pay gap. That the act's practical relevance has proved limited thus far can be explained by the fact that it was not possible to assert the information claim until January 6 2018. Nevertheless, it should be kept in mind that the legal consequences of failings to provide information have yet to be clarified.
A recent Celle Regional Court decision on a clear resale price maintenance case has been heavily debated because the court held that restrictions of competition by object can be compatible with Article 101(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union if they have no potentially significant effects on competition. The Federal Supreme Court has since overruled the decision, leaving it open as to whether the potential effects on competition must be considered in such cases.
German businesses have steadily expanded their compliance structures and internal training programmes and have never been in a better position than they are now. However, declining support for compliance issues among management is giving compliance officers cause for concern, and recent compliance scandals appear to indicate that further work is necessary to make management fully acknowledge the significance of compliance matters.
The Act to Strengthen Company Pensions has introduced pure defined contribution schemes for the first time. This means that employers will not promise specific or calculable retirement benefits, but merely undertake to pay specific contributions to an external pension provider. However, it remains to be seen whether the legislature has managed to strengthen and further spread company pension schemes as intended based on the act.
The Federal Court of Justice recently decided for the first time that the establishment of a compliance management system designed to prevent breaches of the law can reduce fines in accordance with the Administrative Offences Act. The court pointed out that even the optimisation of a compliance management system following compliance breaches can lead to a reduction in fines and provided guidelines for the measures to be taken in such cases.
Since the Berlin Higher Regional Court referred the question to the European Court of Justice of whether it is compatible with EU law that only workers employed in Germany are eligible to participate in the election of workers' representatives on the supervisory board, Germany's legal sector has been eagerly awaiting an answer. The answer is now available and is likely to allow the legal sector to breathe a sigh of relief.
The new Act to Reform Criminal Law on Proceeds of Crime aims to simplify existing rules regarding the confiscation of assets resulting from criminal offences. The reform negates the principle that confiscation is prohibited if and to the extent that an injured person has a civil claim against the offender for damage compensation or other corresponding legal rights which legally enable the injured person to deprive the offender of any proceeds resulting from the criminal offence.
In reorganisation scenarios, German employers must comply with a number of statutory regulations. If a reorganisation involves redundancies and if certain thresholds are exceeded in this respect, special attention must be paid to the regulations aimed at preventing collective redundancies. Any notice of dismissal given in violation of the regulations to prevent collective redundancies contained in Sections 17 and 18 of the Act on Protection Against Unfair Dismissal is invalid.
The Federal Parliament recently adopted the ninth amendment to the Act Against Restraints of Competition. The agreed amendments take account of the ongoing digitalisation of the economy and also intend to close legal gaps in the liability for violations of competition law. However, one of the main aims of the proposed reform is to implement the EU Directive on Antitrust Damages Actions, increasing the efficiency of competition enforcement.
The Federal Cabinet recently adopted a draft law for the introduction of a so-called 'competition register'. The act will allow for the establishment of a Germany-wide register to record companies which have committed certain criminal and administrative offences. Its aim is to promote fair competition and replace the corruption registers introduced in many German states that deviate from each other with regard to essential issues.
Discussions concerning the reform of temporary employment planned by the coalition government characterised 2016. It was intended that the Employee Assignment Act, the Works Constitution Act and the Civil Code be readjusted in order to "align temporary work with its core function and prevent the abuse of structures with contracts for work and services". As the legislative process has since been completed, it is now clear that in 2017 the temporary employment industry will face substantial changes.
Following an anonymous complaint, the Federal Cartel Office (FCO) recently investigated a joint venture between two competitors. The FCO did not have to decide finally on the case, but it preliminarily concluded that the joint venture facilitated market coordination between the two parents. The FCO applied a presumption according to which both parents would take into account information from the joint venture when deciding on their own market conduct.
The Federal Cabinet recently passed the Transparency of Remuneration Act, which is supposed to come into force before Summer 2017. The highly controversial preliminary draft was revised on several occasions. The requirement that the minimum remuneration be stated when advertising a position and an additional codetermination right be included when "implementing measures in terms of actual remuneration equality between women and men" were omitted and not replaced.
The Federal Financial Supervisory Authority recently established a central contact point for whistleblowers to report misconduct in the financial sector and completed the set up by implementing an electronic whistleblowing system. The central whistleblower system will help to detect and fight breaches of law, legal regulations and general administrative acts. It is not meant to be used for consumer complaints, but to foster disclosures by persons with a special knowledge of a regulated entity's internal affairs.
The Federal Cartel Office (FCO) recently issued a decision on a merger control notification from Lufthansa and Air Berlin regarding a wet lease. The agreement is part of Air Berlin's restructuring process. The case underlines the fact that the FCO's application of the concept of 'control' differs from the European Commission's view and raises further questions relating to German merger control.
Data transfers between group companies are often regarded as an internal matter and this appears to be true, especially if the parent company cites plausible reasons for its inquiry. However, the transfer of personal employee data between legally independent companies in a group is not necessarily permissible. The Federal Data Protection Act permits the collection, processing and use of personal data only if it is permitted by law or if the data subjects have given their consent.
The Federal Cartel Office recently published draft guidelines on resale price maintenance. While the guidelines are officially targeted at the food retail sector, they are also likely to have a significant effect on other sectors. A public consultation has been initiated and interested parties are invited to submit comments by March 10 2017. The Federal Cartel Office has stated that it is likely to prosecute vertical price fixing in fines proceedings, not in mere administrative proceedings.