What changes must employers expect with respect to employee alimentation, working from home, employee intragroup assignment, or employing teenagers before their completion of compulsory education? The latest amendment of the Slovak Labour Code introduces several changes, establishes a new ground for dismissal, and also significantly modifies the regulation of collective labour relations.
Meal vouchers or financial allowance? Employees will be able to choose
From 1 March 2021, employees will be able to choose whether to receive meal vouchers, meals from a staff catering provider, or whether they prefer being paid a financial allowance on food. Having chosen, they will then be bound to that choice for 12 months. However, the opportunity to decide between these options applies only to those employees whose employer does not already provide for their alimentation in its own (or other employer’s) catering facility. Where a contract with the provider of meal vouchers is still running, the employer can – in accordance with the transitional provisions – offer its employees the possibility to choose only after the expiry of that contract, but no later than 1 January 2022. Employers providing meal vouchers to their employees can therefore have the employees choose between a financial allowance on food or meal vouchers anytime during the period from the validity of the amendment until the end 2021.
The financial allowance paid by the employer must be at least 55% of the minimum value of the meal voucher (currently EUR 2.11). Here, the principle of equal treatment must be respected, under which the amount of the financial contribution must be equal for all employees, regardless of whether they are paid a financial allowance or receive meal vouchers. If only a financial allowance on meals is being provided, the amount must be at least 55% of the value of the meal allowance for business trips lasting 5 to 12 hours (currently EUR 2.81). The financial allowance on meals will not be subject to taxation or health and social insurance contributions.
The maximum contribution paid by the employer will decrease from the current 3% to 2% of the value of the meal voucher. Furthermore, as of 1 January 2023, meal vouchers will have to be in electronic form only, except in cases where such electronic meal vouchers cannot be used for objective reasons at the workplace or in its vicinity. On the one hand, the decrease reduces employer costs, yet, on the other, the amendment creates more red tape by allowing employees the option of choosing between several forms of alimentation.
Labour unions: members will have to be employees
Based on a newly passed amendment, a labour union organisation can be active at an employer only if that employer’s employees are among its members.
If a labour union organisation is interested in being active at an employer, but does not have members among the employees (usually members of the labour union body), the employer may initiate proceedings before an arbitrator. Conversely, a labour union organisation also has the right of recourse to an arbitrator. If the final decision goes against the labour union organisation, for a period of 12 months, that organisation will be considered as not being active at the respective employer.
In addition, the new regulation repeals the binding force of representative sectoral collective agreements towards employers that are not members of any employer association nor are covered by any sectoral collective agreement. In accordance with the transitional provisions, currently valid and effective representative sectoral collective agreements will remain in force until their expiry.
New dismissal reason: concurrence of 65 years of age and retirement age
The amendment introduces a new dismissal reason applicable from 1 January 2022: concurrence of 65 years of age and the age from which the entitlement to retirement pension applies. The employee concerned will be entitled to the same severance pay as in the case of dismissal due to organisational changes. The age of 65 as a dismissal ground already applies to civil servants. The motivation behind the new dismissal reason is an intergenerational change of personnel and reduction in unemployment.
Home office: scheduling of working hours, compensation of employee’s expenses, right to disconnect
Based on the adopted amendment, self-scheduling of working time will no longer be a distinguishing feature of regular work from home and telework. Now, employers will also be entitled to schedule their employees’ working hours when working from home on a regular basis. The parties can however still agree that the working time will be set by the employee only. In such a case, the employee will, however, lose some benefits, such as wage compensation for personal impediments at work, surcharges for overtime work, for holiday, weekend, or night work.
The new regulation obliges the employer to reimburse its employees working from home for demonstrably increased costs resulting from the use of the employee’s own tools, devices, or materials necessary for work from home or telework. It remains unclear whether employers can write these reimbursements off as tax expenditures. Employers are also responsible for the protection of data processed and used in telework.
Each employee working from home will have the right to disconnect. Employees working from home will be entitled to not use work equipment (i.e. be logged in or connected) during their daily rest. In addition, employers cannot punish their employees if they do not fulfil their work tasks during that rest period. The purpose of this right is to separate private and professional life, and to ensure that the periods of rest or leave are respected. The right to disconnect also applies to employees working from home on an occasional basis.
The amendment fails to clarify the distinction between occasional and regular work from home. When applying grammatical interpretation, regularity occurs already when work is being carried out from home one or two days per week. The topic of occupational health and safety has long been an outstanding issue with respect to work from home and the amendment does not shed any light on this.
Permanent childcare: new definition
The term 'permanent childcare' was already introduced within last year’s amendment of the Labour Code; however the question remained unresolved about what 'permanent' childcare actually is. The latest amendment now finally defines this term. The right to five weeks paid leave arises on the day when an employee notifies the employer of the employee’s obligation of permanent childcare. Furthermore, the amendment clarifies that the entitlement to five weeks’ leave must be granted to both parents having a child in joint custody. Where an employee starts or stops permanently taking care of a child within a calendar year, the length of the paid leave is proportionate to the number of days of permanent childcare in the respective calendar year.
Intragroup assignment of employees: more flexible rules
The amendment contains more relaxed regulation of the assignment of employees between controlling and controlled entities. Objective operational reasons and minimum employment (3 months) prior to the assignment will no longer be required for an intragroup temporary assignment. However, this applies only on condition that the temporary assignment between the parent company and its subsidiary has been agreed free of charge (with exception of wage costs).
Employing teenagers before completion of compulsory education
In accordance with the amended Labour Code, teenagers older than 15 years of age will be allowed to work in 'easy' jobs even before the completion of compulsory education. The determination of whether a particular job is easy lies with the labour inspectorate, which will issue a permit, upon agreement with the competent public health authority, at the request of the employer.
By Pavol Rak, Partner, Noerr