What Slovak Labor Code Changes Will Mean for Employers

It is widely believed among legal professionals that the Slovak Labor Code[1] is one of the more rigid labor codes among EU member states.

For example, if an employer wants to terminate employment for an employee in Slovakia, they cannot do so unilaterally without having a legally justifiable reason for doing so.

When terminating employment, it is still the case that documents supporting the termination must first be delivered to the employee personally, even if there are grounds for dismissal or immediate termination.

Furthermore, an employer may request limited information from an employee at the time of hire and cannot unreasonably ask an employee for proof of their criminal record or conduct a formal credit check, for example, making it difficult for an employer to act fast or with flexibility in the employment process, sometimes even to the detriment of employees themselves.

There are numerous reasons for this, rooted in the legal history of Slovakia and general law principles. For example, an employee should benefit from legal protection as the - perceived - weaker party in the employment relationship.

Continuing these trends, the EU has come up with new directives intended to increase the protection of each employee and as the weaker party, strengthen their rights.

Specifically, the new changes have been introduced by EU Directive 2019/1152 on transparent and predictable working conditions in the EU, as well as EU Directive 2019/1158 on work-life balance for parents and persons with caring responsibilities.

These were transposed into Slovak law through an amendment to the Slovak Labor Code[2] as the basic labor law code in Slovakia, effective from Nov. 1, 2022.

In what ways does this change Slovak labor law and can an employee, in the context of constantly changing legislation that strengthens their protection, still be considered the weaker party in a contractual relationship with their employer?

New Employment Contract vs. Employer's New Information Obligation

On the one hand, the new legislation simplifies the requirements for mandatory content in an employment contract.

On the other, a new employer's obligation is introduced, which essentially expands the range of information an employer is obliged to communicate to an employee at the start of their employment.

For example, it will no longer be sufficient for an employer to specify an employee's working hours. Now an employer must also explicitly notify an employee of other specifics, such as the scheduling of working hours, breaks at work, daily and weekly rest, overtime rules, etc.

An employer is also newly obliged to inform an employee about the employee's principal place of work, if there is more than one location; the time limit for filing a claim in case of an invalid employment termination; the employee's right to training, etc.

This obligation may be viewed as an extended duty to be borne by the employer. The employer's new information obligation also applies, and is individually tailored, to employees working abroad and those working in so-called atypical employment relationships.

It will be possible to circumvent the information obligation if an employer includes all mandatory information upfront in the employment contract. This may appear a more practical option, as all information is set out in one document.

However, there is a downside to this for the employee. If an employer decides to fulfill the information obligation towards an employee outside of the employment contract, they will benefit by essentially being able to change the employee's working conditions unilaterally, as specified in the information obligation.

Naturally, this will not be the case if all the information is set out in the employment contract, which can be changed only by way of amendments agreed by both parties.

However, even if an employer uses the option of presenting the mandatory information in a separate document, they will be obliged to notify the employee of any changes in writing in advance. Overall, using a separate form would seem to be the easier option.

Another important change is that employers will now be permitted to send the information document to employees electronically.

This will only be possible if a number of preconditions are met, however, namely that the employee:

  • Has access to such electronic information;
  • Can save and print it; and
  • The employer can retain evidence of the sending and receipt of such electronic information in a suitable manner.

Extended Prohibition on Restricting Employees From Other Gainful Activities

Employers were previously prohibited from obliging employees to keep their working and conditions and wages confidential. The amendment introduces a prohibition on restricting employees from engaging in other gainful activities outside their working hours.

However, it will still be the case that if employee wishes to engage in other gainful activities of a competitive nature with the employer's business, they will need the employer's consent to do so.

The employer's right to restrict employees from engaging in competitive activity remains in force even after the termination of employment, provided that the disclosure of any information could cause harm to the previous employer.

The restriction is limited to a maximum of a year, and an employer is obliged to compensate the employee at least 50% of their average monthly salary for each month of compliance with this obligation.

It is also worth mentioning that Slovak employment law does not recognize solicitation clauses, which forbid an employee to divert or entice other employees or customers away from employer after the employment has been terminated.

While the negotiation of such clauses might be possible by agreement between the parties, in the event of a dispute such an agreement would most likely be found by a court to be void and legally unenforceable on the grounds that it increases restriction of an employee's autonomy and is therefore detrimental to their interests.

New Right for Employee to Claim More Secure Form of Employment

It is quite common for Slovak employers to prefer fixed-term employment contracts, especially for new or inexperienced employees. This gives employers greater flexibility, especially regarding terminating the employment, which simply ends at the expiry of the agreed period.

In practice in Slovakia, it is also quite common to conclude part-time contracts for fewer hours than the normal 40-hour working week.

In the context of the amendment under discussion, the Slovak Labor Code introduces the possibility for employees working in this way to formally request the employer to switch to a more secure form of employment after a period of six months. In the case of a fixed-term employee, to a permanent job, and in case of a part-time employee, to a full-time position.

Similarly, employees who are parents caring for children under the age of eight or are personally caring for infirm relatives may ask an employer for the option to work from home, referred to as domestic work or telework in Slovakia.

If an employer receives a formal request from an employee, they must consider it. Even more challenging, an employer is generally obliged to comply with such a request, unless they have a genuine reason not to do so.

In principle, this may be the case where the nature of the employee's work allows for working from home, for example, or there are specific operational or staffing reasons on the employer's part.

As a rule, an employer must respond in writing to the employee's request within one month of receipt of the request.

Extended Legal Protection for Employees

Even before the amendment, Slovak employees had a relatively wide range of legal remedies that they were entitled to use if they believed their rights were being violated by their employer.

The new legislation gives employees an even more explicit right to complain to their employer, not only in relation to breaches of the principle of equal treatment, but also essentially to any breach of rights and obligations arising from employment.

An employer, in turn, is obliged to deal thoroughly with any such complaint and to respond to it in writing and remedy it without undue delay.

In addition to filing a complaint, the employee is still entitled, if they believe that their rights have been violated, to file a complaint with the relevant labor inspection authorities to report a crime or other anti-social activity, to file a criminal complaint or, in general, to seek protection of their rights by bringing a court action.

At the same time, there is no change to the general principle that an employee should not be harassed or otherwise penalized during the course of their employment in such a situation.

Who Is Really the Weaker Party in the Employment Relationship?

In addition to these rules, the amendment also brings about other substantial clarifications of the employment relationship in Slovakia.

It is fair to say that all the innovations that the amended legislation brings to the Slovak legal system will bring employers an additional and increased bureaucratic burden, as well as further formal and practical obligations that will affect the daily operation of the business.

At first glance it might appear that the new legislation may simplify life for employers, e.g., reducing the amount of mandatory content in a new employment contract, and the ability to provide certain information electronically.

However, on closer inspection it is apparent that ultimately there are other factors for an employer to bear in mind and life will only be simplified once an employer has fulfilled the stipulated requirements.

An employee has always been, and by definition always will be, the subordinate party in a contractual relationship with an employer, and therefore the party that submits to the will, possibilities and preferences of the other party, that is, the employer.

Nevertheless, in our view, this does not mean that they will always automatically be the weaker party in the relationship, as has been traditionally declared by courts and academics.

It should be remembered that a large group of employees on the market is made up of highly qualified people with a great deal of experience, who know their rights well and exactly how to exploit them, sometimes interpreting them in absolute terms against their employers.

Therefore, in our opinion, it is worth considering in the future whether the constant strengthening and expansion of employees' rights at the expense of employers is really the right way to go.

If so, then the courts and regulators in their supervisory, interpretative and decision making competence should reconsider whether the default mindset of the employee being the weaker party is still the right approach.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of their employer, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

[1] Slovak Act No. 311/2001 Coll. Labour Code as amended.

[2] Slovak Act No. 350/2022 Coll.

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