European Union: Brussels HR Law Focus Newsletter No.1 2015

Last Updated: 5 February 2015
Article by Stefan Nerinckx

"HR Law Focus" newsletters are issued whenever we judge that new legislation or case law might be of importance to your business.

Non-EU employers now more exposed to employment litigation

In an international mobility scenario involving cross-border employment in one or more states, it is probable that at least some of the legislation of the state where the employee works (even if only temporarily) will apply to the employment relationship (these are called mandatory (overriding) rules). This is so even if the employer has no presence in that state and despite any choice of law made by the parties (in this regard, we refer to our numerous previous contributions on this subject: you can find them on our website or we will be happy to share them with you again on request).

However, previously, when it came to appointing jurisdiction (a competent court), the relevant EU Regulation (Brussels I) only applied where the defendant (regardless of nationality) was domiciled in a Member State. Thus, if an employee wanted to sue their employer in the EU, the employer had to have its registered office or at least a place of business in a Member State. That said, EU Directive 96/71 provided that employees could claim in the Member State where the worker was or had been posted, though the directive also only applied to undertakings established in a Member State.

Where the employer had no presence in a Member State, the employee could only sue in the state where the employer was established. Now, since 10 January 2015, companies with no EU presence but with staff working in the EU can be sued by employees under employment litigation in any EU Member State, even if the employer has no branch, agency or other establishment in the EU (based on the Brussels I recast Regulation (Regulation (EU) 1215/2012), which replaces the Brussels I Regulation (Regulation (EU) 44/2001)). For example, employees working for a US-based company that has no EU presence (i.e. no place of business in the EU) have been able, from 10 January 2015, to litigate in the EU, regardless of any (often US) jurisdiction clause and despite the fact that their employer has no EU presence.

An employer not domiciled and not having any establishment in a Member State may now be sued in a court of the Member State where, or from where, the employee habitually carries out their work.

Not only does this mean that an employer foreign to the EU has to defend itself against legal action by its employees before the courts of the EU; it should also be noted that the (EU) rules on determining applicable law provide for the competent court to apply its national law's mandatory overriding rules.

Another consequence of the new Brussels I recast Regulation relates to aspects of simultaneous employment: disputes against multiple employer defendants in different Member States can now be brought before a court in just one Member State (provided that there is a close connection; in practice an employee will sue their employer in the country where they habitually work).

Recommendations:

  • Employers not established in the EU need to be aware of this additional litigation route that is available to employees working in the EU.
  • When drafting an employment contract, carefully analyse what the governing law will be and act/implement the rules according to the mandatory (overriding) provisions.
  • Fix the competent court in the contract before any dispute arises (albeit these jurisdiction clauses are of limited validity, i.e. only if the employee chooses to rely on them).

New salary amounts for immigration purposes

General

From 1 January 2015, the applicable annual remuneration thresholds for various employment law purposes are:

  • €33,203 (legal base amount: €16,100; 2014 amount: €32,886) – non-competition and training clauses.
  • €66,406 (legal base amount: €32,200; 2014 amount: €65,771) – non-competition, arbitration clauses, type B work permit for managerial staff.

These amounts also apply to existing employment contract clauses. If salary conditions are not complied with, the clause will be null and void, i.e. non-enforceable by the employer.

Amounts of annual salary for immigration purposes – highly skilled and managerial positions

From 1 January 2015, companies submitting new and renewal type B work permit applications must confirm that non-EEA and Croatian national workers will be paid at least the equivalent of the following annual salary: Highly skilled foreign workers must earn a minimum annual gross salary of €39,802.

  • Managerial and executive-level positions must earn a minimum annual gross salary of €66,406.
  • To apply for a blue card, employees have to earn a minimum annual gross salary of €51,466.

Definition of annual salary

The definition of annual salary used by the regional authorities depends on the international mobility scenario. For instance, it differs depending on whether the employee has a local contract (signed between the employee and an employer established in Belgium) or an assignment contract (seconded by a foreign entity as employer to an entity established in Belgium). The following definitions of 'annual salary' apply in these two scenarios:

  • For a local contract with an entity established in Belgium for an employee working in Belgium: annual gross salary, social security and taxes included.
  • For an assignment/secondment: annual gross salary subject to taxes (i.e. taxable annual gross salary).

If the thresholds are not complied with, the work permit may be withdrawn by the authorities or the employer will have to rectify the salary situation. In practice, renewal of a work permit will be refused if the salary thresholds have not been complied with for the prior period.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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