Webinar or face-to-face seminar? Costs coverage for works council training

Accommodation costs for the works council's participation in a face-to-face seminar may have to be borne even if the same training provider offers a webinar with the same content (Federal Labour Court ruling of 7 February 2024 – 7 AZR 8/23).

Obligation of the employer to bear the costs

According to Section 40 of the Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz – BetrVG), the employer must bear the costs incurred by the works council's activities. This includes the costs incurred when a works council member attends a training in accordance with Section 37 (6) BetrVG, provided that the knowledge imparted during the training is necessary for the work of the works council.

Margin for judgement regarding the necessity of training participation

According to established case law of the Federal Labour Court, the works council has a margin of judgment when deciding on the necessity of participating in training. However, it is obliged to only burden the employer with costs that it deems reasonable. It must endeavour to limit the costs caused by its activities to what is necessary. The works council must take into account the operational situation and the financial burden on the employer associated with attending the training event, and ensure that the purpose of the training is proportionate to the resources required. Therefore, it may not consider participation in a training event to be necessary if it can reasonably obtain comparable knowledge in a more cost-effective manner by other means. However, the works council does not have to decide in favour of the most cost-effective training event if they consider another training course to be of better quality.

Margin for judgment regarding training format

In the case of the latest judgment of the Federal Labour Court, the employer had established a staff committee on the basis of a collective agreement, whose training entitlement was based on the Works Constitution Act. The staff committee sent two of its members to a training course lasting several days. The employer paid the seminar fee for this but refused to cover the accommodation and catering costs. The main reason for this was that the members of the staff representatives could have taken part in a webinar offered by the same training provider lasting several days at the same time and with the same content. In the proceedings initiated by the staff committee, they claimed coverage of the accommodation and catering costs by the employer. Following the lower courts, the Federal Labour Court obliged the employer to do so.

Higher costs not a compelling reason for exclusion

The Federal Labour Court emphasised that the works council's margin of judgment also includes the training format. This is not precluded by the fact that a face-to-face seminar regularly incurs higher costs than a webinar in terms of accommodation and catering for the training participants.

According to the lower court, this was particularly true as the staff committee could assume that face-to-face training would be significantly more effective than online training in terms of the learning success to be achieved. This was the case even if the learning content was identical, as the number of questions and comments from participants in an online training regularly only reached a fraction of the corresponding contributions in a face-to-face training session, and experience had shown that there was less alignment and exchange on the practical handling of codetermination rights in the different companies ("How does it work at your company?") in online training sessions.

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