The Bulgarian government has recently approved new amendments to national labour legislation. These changes are part of on-going efforts to make Bulgarian labour law more business-friendly, with less administrative burden on employers. Below we provide a short analysis of the major new changes and their potential impact on employers.
1 Amendments to the Labour Code
Employers will no longer be required to notify in advance the Labour Inspectorate in cases of prolongation of the working time. Thus, it is expected that employers could react more swiftly to unexpected peaks in workload. However, the obligation for prior consultation with trade union and employee representatives remains.
A new clause provides for relief from certain obligations related to the introduction of prolonged working time or reduction of the working time, as well as from the obligation for preparing Internal Labour Regulations. This relief is, however, available only to micro and small undertakings. It should be noted that the Labour Code does not define the terms “micro” or “small” undertakings. This can make it difficult for employers to determine whether they can take advantage of this relief or not.
Another amendment aims at providing more freedom to employees on flexible working time schedules. Until now, employees can decide when to start their working day considering the pre-determined mandatory office hours. The law currently does not define the end of a working day. The new provision makes it clear that employees could at their own discretion end the working day earlier and catch up with the missed working hours in one of the following days (within the same working week). This text will make it easier for employers to prepare their internal procedures concerning flexible working time.
Another interesting novelty is the special obligation of employers to keep an employment record (dossier) for each employee. Even in the absence of the express provision, systematic interpretation of different labour law provisions led to the conclusion that employers are in fact obliged to keep such records and provide them to the Labour Inspectorate in cases of dawn raids or inquiries. The “labour dossier” should now be created from the outset of the employment relationship and maintained throughout its duration. The employee will now have the right to receive certified copies of the maintained documents.
A new regulation is introduced for additional maternity leave. Mothers will now be able to enjoy additional maternity leave for each child until the child reaches the age of two. This right is available irrespective of the number of children for whom the woman has already used such leave.
The requirement for maintaining annual leave schedules by employers will no longer apply, as the text was considered burdensome and lacking any real effect. Employees will be allowed to use any remaining days of their annual leave within the first half of the next calendar year.
Employers will also no longer be required to prepare Rules for Occupational Health and Safety. The impact of this should not be over exaggerated, as employers still have to adhere to the relevant occupational health and safety obligations.
The bill envisioned a return to the previous regulation, where the employer could unilaterally terminate the employment agreement after the employee qualifies for retirement.
A brand-new provision of the proposed amendment regulates short-term labour agreements for seasonal agricultural work. Such agreements could be concluded for a period of one working day. An employee could enter into a maximum of 90 one-day agreements per a year. Simplified procedure for execution and registration of such agreements is also envisaged.
2 Amendments to the Civil Procedure Code
The latest amendments in the Civil Procedure Code have retracted the possibility to appeal labour cases before the Bulgarian Supreme Court of Cassation (“SCC”). The SCC will review employment disputes only in a limited number of cases:
- when the dispute arises out of unlawful termination of an employment agreement; or
- when the claim is related to outstanding labour-related payments in an amount exceeding BGN 5,000 (approximately EUR 2,556).
The SCC will no longer decide on cases related to reprimands, final warnings and other labour disputes. The rationale behind this is to ease the work of the SCC. It is also expected that due to this amendment employment cases will be resolved faster.
3 Case law
Тhe SCC has recently clarified specific grounds for the unilateral termination of employment agreements. According to the current wording of the Labour Code, employers are allowed to terminate the agreements of employees whose employment relationship arose after the respective employee acquired and exercised his/her right of retirement.
The SCC dealt with the issue of an employee:
- who had been unlawfully dismissed;
- had acquired and exercised his/her right to a pension during the period of unlawful dismissal; and
- was afterwards reinstated to his/her previous job, following a successful court ruling for reinstatement.
The SCC has ruled that the employer could not terminate the employment agreement on this ground after the reinstatement. In this case, due to the unlawful dismissal and subsequent reinstatement, the court accepted that the employment relationship arose prior to the moment when the right of retirement was exercised. The reinstatement merely “returned” the employment relationship to what it had been previously.