Hot employment law topics trending across more than one European country next year – two hot topics require the attention of European HR professionals: whistleblowing and stress (in particular, how to reconcile an employer’s duty of care to employees and modern working practices including 24/7 email).

New or amended whistle-blowing regulations feature in Ireland, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. This reflects increasing concerns that staff who draw their employer’s attention to dangerous working practices, fraud and other wrongdoing are being ignored or even victimised.

Workplace ‘burn-out’ and other stress related problems have contributed to a growing demand from European trade unions and others for preventative action. Belgium has already taken regulatory action and there is increasing pressure in Germany and France for employers to monitor and limit employees’ working hours in some sectors.

Action: Ensure that whistle-blowing policies are compliant with any changes in regulation and that all employees understand the policy and their responsibility not to retaliate against colleagues who blow the whistle. Review whether your employer is effectively managing the risks presented by work related stress, for example, through a step by step risk assessment approach focusing on causes and prevention.

Keeping up-to-date with employment law developments in European countries – the ongoing difficult economic conditions continue to precipitate changes to workplace regulation in Europe. These changes can sometimes appear contradictory, with some reducing employment regulation to boost competitiveness and others increasing protection to discourage the use of precarious employment contracts and to deter social dumping:

Austria: Stricter rules on posting employees to Austria are planned to take effect from 1 January 2015, including new fines and a more burdensome procedure. At the same time, stricter rules and higher fines regarding associated wage-dumping are also planned to take effect.

Belgium: New rules require employers, for the first time, to provide a reason for dismissing an employee and, controversially, to take preventative action against ‘burnout’ related to stress in the workplace.

France: New case law has opened up the prospect of employees suing a parent company located outside France, where a French subsidiary is closed. This development hinges on the parent company having direct authority over the subsidiary’s employees and is deemed to be a supplementary employer. Also, from 1 November 2014, a new law means that upon the sale of a business (a going concern), or a majority shareholding, employees of smaller companies (up to 249 employees) must be informed in advance to give them an opportunity to buy the business. Where the business is not required to set up a works council, they must be given 2 months’ notice (no set time frame applies for businesses with 50-249 employees but it will form part of the normal information process). A breach may result in a sale which is null and void. Global companies contemplating selling smaller subsidiaries in France need to note this new delay before a sale agreement can be signed.

Germany: The implementation of the new minimum wage on 1 January 2015 is having a significant impact, such as in sector pay bargaining where lower rates exist in the food and retail sectors. In addition, trade unions are lobbying for an ‘anti-stress’ law and a government study has been set up to define work-related stress and calculate its economic cost. Some sectors, such as the automotive sector, are already taking action with agreements to discourage access to electronic devices, such as Blackberries, outside working hours.

Hungary: Recent changes to whistle-blowing regulations require employers to publish their whistle-blowing procedures and set down rules as to how to respond to, and investigate, whistle-blowing disclosures.

Ireland: Recently introduced whistle-blowing protection which carries the risk of significant compensation for employer breach and may encourage spurious claims. The government is also moving ahead early next year with a radical reform of employment rights bodies and the adjudication of claims.

Italy: Previously, Italian law provided that executives (Dirigenti) were excluded from the collective dismissal procedure and therefore did not count towards the threshold for triggering the procedure (more than 5 employees to be dismissed in 120 days by an employer with more than 15 employees). Following criticism from the European Court of Justice, the law has been changed to extend the application of the collective dismissal procedure to executives. However, in the event of non-compliance with the procedure or the selection criteria, executives will be entitled to compensation for damages and not to reinstatement.

Netherlands: Significant changes are being introduced next year. In January, fixed term contracts are changing, including the earlier conversion of consecutive fixed term contracts into indefinite term contracts, a ban on probationary periods in contracts of 6 months or less and a prohibition on non-compete clauses unless the employer has overriding business interests to protect. In July, important changes to dismissal laws take effect which will result in the process becoming more difficult, although the cost of terminations will become cheaper. For further information, please view the original using the link at the top.

Poland: A critical European Court of Justice judgment requires the government to amend the notice periods for fixed term contracts, including moving from a fixed notice to one based on service. This is significant given the popularity of such contracts.

Sweden: In response to criticisms that health and safety breaches go unpunished due to a complex regulatory procedure, the government has introduced new employer fines and a simpler, quicker procedure. There are also proposals to increase whistle-blower protections. Recent elections resulted in a red-green government which may lead to employee friendly reforms.

Switzerland: With negotiations ongoing with the EU over Switzerland’s plan for enhanced protection in the event of immigration above defined thresholds, the future impact on employers when recruiting new staff from the EU is still unknown. Meanwhile, changes have provided more flexibility over the recording of working time.

United Kingdom: A new shared parental leave system will apply to parents of babies due or children placed for adoption from 5 April 2015. Recent case law suggests that many employers have been underpaying holiday pay (read more). In addition, there are a number of significant court judgments pending, including one which questions the compliance of UK collective redundancies legislation with EU law and another challenging the lawfulness of levying fees on workers before they can sue their employers. The general election is also expected to result in employment law changes.

Action: Where the organisation has operations in the above countries, check readiness for the changes described and obtain more information where appropriate by contacting your usual Eversheds’ adviser, or emailing Constanze Moorhouse at constanzemoorhouse@eversheds.com and signing up to the Global Employment and Labour Law Update (please click on this link and select ‘Employment – International’ on the ‘Your interests’ tab).