If you ask employers what they would like from an amendment to the Labour Code, most of them would probably reply: More flexibility. The last big amendment, in force since 1 September 2011, has indeed brought more flexible working arrangements to Slovak employment relations. Time will tell how employers make use of this to adapt to a rather difficult economic situation. Working time arrangements especially, if implemented properly, can be very effective.
FLEXIBILITY IN CONTRACTS
One interesting change is the possibility to agree on a six month trial period for management employees (first/second line managers). Collective agreements can add a further threemonths (so the general trial period could be agreed for six months and for management employees for nine months). In some cases (such as major projects, or long introductory training) it might be difficult to evaluate a new employee in three months.
Concluding contracts for a definitive period has become more flexible as well. Currently, the maximum period is three years (with three renewals included), while before it was only two years (two renewals included). Employers can now use more short-term contracts for seasonal increases and decreases in work.
The implementation of job sharing represents a change in favour of employees who need flexibility to combine their work and family life. Several part-time employees can now divide amongst themselves their working time and tasks.
FLEXIBILITY IN WORKING TIME
In practice, many employers had difficulties ensuring work for their employees when they were faced with sudden cuts in supplies or a decline in orders. The flexi-account of working hours that was previously introduced as a temporary measure to deal with crises has now become a permanent tool or solving serious operational problems. The flexi-account works on the principle that if serious operational problems arise an employer can provide employees with days off and pay them a basic salary. The employees will have to compensate these days off by working as soon as the problem is solved but any hours worked will not be classed as overtime. The period during which an employee will have to work to compensate the time off is 12 months from when the time off was taken. Under the amendment, negotiations with employees' representatives are sufficient. Previously, their agreement was required before a flexi-account could be introduced.
For employers not facing serious operational problems but who foresee that during the year demand for work will fluctuate between busy periods and quiet periods, the working time account has been introduced. This is a special disproportionate distribution of working time that the employer will be able to use when demand for work increases or decreases. In the first case, an employer will be able to request that an employee work more hours than agreed (plus hours) which will not be counted as overtime. If demand for work decreases an employee may be required to work less, or not at all (minus hours). The average weekly working time calculated during the reference period of max. 12 consecutive months cannot exceed the agreed weekly time (e.g. 40 hours per week). Every month an employee receives a salary corresponding to agreed weekly working time regardless of the amount of hours actually worked in a particular month (so 50 hours per week will be paid the same as 30 hours per week). A working time account requires agreement with the employees’ representatives and for certain groups of employees also their individual consent. Legal analysis of employment contracts, collective agreements and internal bylaws is always recommended when considering a working time account.
For both "accounts" of working hours an employer must always comply with the rules on distribution of working hours, in particular minimum daily and weekly rest. An essential condition for the proper functioning of such a system is the employer's ability to diligently calculate a schedule and limits of working time in advance (per employee, per unitworking in shifts)and align it with its business plans. Otherwise, the employer risks minus hours (e.g. when an employee is at home receiving a full basic salary)not being compensated by plus hours (e.g. because an employee that should be working plus hours has no available place in a particular shift). Moreover, except in limited cases, an employee is not obliged to pay back wages already received, even if the final result of the year is that they have been paid for 1900 hours but effectively worked only 1000 hours - which is financially disadvantageous for the employer. For industries where such planning is not possible, the employer might consider other flexible arrangements (such as short-term contracts).
Compared to the previous legislation new flexibility is also brought to overtime and night work. Standard employees still have the maximum extent of overtime of 400 hours. However, management employees (first/second line managers) will be able to work up to 550 hours, if they agree. For overtime the employer still has to pay a bonus or give the employee a dayoff. However, the period during which the employer must provide the day-off has been extended from three to twelve months after the overtime was worked. Under the new legislation employees can work night shifts for more than two consecutive weeks if the nature of the work or the operational conditions require so or if the employee agrees to it.
Changes brought by the last big amendment to Labour Code can result in more flexibility in employment relations. To apply them effectively, using legal advice in cooperation with sound business planning is vital.
Source: Elena Chorvátová, Attorney at Law,
PETERKA & PARTNERS Law Offices
This article is for information purposes only. Under no account can it be considered as either a legal opinion or advice on how to proceed in particular cases or on how to assess them. If you need any further information on the issues covered by this article, please contact our Law Office:
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20. Feb 2012 at 0:00