Work/Life: International Employment News Update

Welcome to the latest edition of our international employment news update.
Worldwide Employment and HR
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Issue 97

Welcome to the latest edition of our international employment news update.

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United Kingdom

Using the phrase 'back in your day' could be considered age harassment, Employment Tribunal rules

An Employment Tribunal has ruled that the expression 'back in your day' directed at senior colleagues could constitute age-related harassment. This term, which highlights generational differences, might be considered as "unwanted conduct" and possibly objectionable. This ruling surfaced during the case of Margaret Couperthwaite; a nursing assistant who pursued an age harassment claim after her younger colleague's purported remark about NHS operations being complimentary 'back in your day'. Despite the dismissal of the claim due to insubstantial evidence, the tribunal acknowledged that had such a comment been made, it would have pertained to age and likely regarded as unwanted conduct. Alongside this, Ms Couperthwaite's additional allegations involving discriminatory termination, disability discrimination, and harassment were also rejected.

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Supermarket employees challenge 'fire and rehire' tactic in UK's highest court

A group of Tesco staff members have escalated their dispute to the UK Supreme Court, challenging the retailer's 'fire and rehire' approach. They claim that in 2009 they were either dismissed or coerced into relocating 40 miles away. Although Tesco compensated individuals who consented to move with a lump sum, the firm later sought to terminate their employment in 2021 and offer re-employment under less beneficial terms. Tesco won at an earlier appeal stage, which overturned a previous ruling preventing the dismissals. The Supreme Court heard the appeal on 23 and 24 April 2024, and the judgment is currently pending.

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Imposition of uniforms during the summer

In the recent judgment 457/2024, the Supreme Court upheld that a company may require its security staff to wear ties in air-conditioned settings. This ruling aligns with an existing agreement with trade unions which permits the company to define the security guards' uniforms, ensuring they are seasonally suitable, functional for work, and considerate of personal circumstances. The decision supports the company's right to enforce a dress code, confirming that it does not infringe upon employee dignity and supports gender equality in uniform design and application.

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Paid leave: French law is now adapted to EU law

On 24 April 2024, France enacted a new law in line with EU legislation allowing employees to accrue paid leave during sick or accident-related absence, up to 24 days annually, or 30 for work-related incidents. Employers must inform returning staff within a month about their leave entitlement and usage window, extending up to 15 months post-return or from the close of the accrual period if sick leave exceeds a year. Effective since 1 December 2009, this law permits current employees until 23 April 2026 to claim past due leave. For former employees seeking back payment for such leave, claims are subject to a three-year statute of limitations. Employers should assess the retrospective financial obligations arising from these changes.

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Average Dutch retirement age approaching 66 years

In the Netherlands, the effective retirement age is nearing 66 years, according to Statistics Netherlands (CBS). This rise corresponds with the gradual increase of the state pension age since 2013. Last year, a majority (74%) of retirees were aged 65 or above, compared to only 14% in 2003, following a decline in early retirement scheme availability after 2006. While the number of pensioners grew significantly in 2020 and 2021, it levelled off around 3.3 million by 2022 and 2023. Despite overall population growth driven by immigration, retirees represent a decreasing proportion (now at 18.3%) of the Dutch populace, partly due to higher labour participation among older adults.

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Illegal employment earns firms more than fines

Inspectors from the Ministry of Social Affairs have informed parliament that penalties for hiring non-EU workers without appropriate documentation are failing to deter employers, as fines have not kept pace with inflation. Currently capped at EUR8,000 per violation since 2005, these sanctions would be EUR15,000 today if adjusted for inflation according to the inspectors' analysis. Employers still see a financial gain by employing individuals illegally, even after being fined. An examination of 24 cases revealed that employers could reduce their expenses by up to 60%, implying that the cost savings far outweigh any incurred fines. For instance, an owner of an Asian eatery paid a cook EUR1,000 in cash monthly for extensive working hours but saved EUR38,000 by not paying formal wages or related employment costs. Similar scenarios occurred in industries like cleaning services, construction work, shipbuilding, and agriculture. It was noted that 90% of employers recouped their fine within one year, with some doing so in under three months.

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Chinese investments inject billions of Euros into Hungary's economy

During a statement in Beijing, the Hungarian Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister proclaimed that investments from Chinese enterprises amounting to EUR15.2 billion will be channelled into Hungary's economy, with the anticipation of creating around 25,000 job opportunities and elevating the country's technological standards.

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Slovakia on a mission to attract more workers from third countries

The Slovak government are in the process of amending the Act on Foreigners' Residence to align with European Union guidelines and to streamline the immigration path for non-EU workers. This legislative revision is set to enhance the availability of EU blue cards for highly qualified individuals from outside the EU. Regarding standard work permits, under the proposed changes, non-EU nationals would be eligible to commence employment in Slovakia as soon as they file their application with immigration police, on the condition that the relevant labour office has already approved that a non-EU national can fill the vacancy.

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Millions of euros in fines for Polish failure to protect whistleblowers

The European Union's Court of Justice has delivered a ruling that Poland did not fulfil its obligation to implement the EU directiveon whistleblower protection into domestic law. Consequently, Poland is subject to financial sanctions comprising a one-time payment of EUR7 million coupled with daily fines amounting to EUR40,000 commencing from the verdict's declaration date. The original deadline was set for 17 December 2021; however, the European Commission identified Poland's non-compliance and initiated legal proceedings before the Court. The Court sustained the Commission's allegations, dismissing Poland's justifications related to legislative delays and extraordinary circumstances such as the health crisis and refugee surges. Accordingly, Poland has been mandated by the Court to pay both the fixed sum and daily penalties as stipulated by the Commission.

On 24 April 2024, the Polish Parliament referred the whistleblower protection bill for its initial reading to the Committee on Social Policy and Family. The committee has until 20 May 2024 to complete their report on the bill.

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