This article provides a short overview of the most important changes in employment law that took place in Greece in 2017.
By: Korina Paschaliori
Firm: Kremalis Law Firm
In Greece, the main changes that occurred in employment law in 2017 were included in over six different laws voted by the Greek Parliament during the previous year. These changes are set out below.
New grounds for dismissal of protected employees
Two new grounds for dismissal have been introduced for employees who are protected against dismissals due to the fact that they are elected members of the Management Board of a trade union or founders of a trade union. These employees can be dismissed if they commit theft or embezzlement against the employer or its representatives and also if they are absent without reason from work for more than three days. Previously an unjustified absence had to exceed seven days for dismissal to be legal.
Absences and leave of trade union officials
Leave provisions for trade union representatives have been expanded, with new rights have been added to the pre-existing ones. An employer is now obliged to grant leave of absence for their whole term of office to:
- the President and General Secretary of Labour Centers and Federations, provided that the affiliated organisations have more than 10,000 voting members;
- the President of Labour Centers and Federations, provided that the first-grade trade unions, which belong to them have 1,501 to 10,000 voting members;
- the members of the Executive Committee and the Secretariat of the European Trade Union Confederation.
Officials of smaller and secondary trade unions are now entitled to lesser amounts of leave, ranging from a maximum of 15 days per month.
The employees’ period of absence is considered to be working time for the purposes of all rights stemming from the employment and insurance relationship. The days of absence of the workers referred to in the first two bullet points, as well as for the members of the Management Board of the most representative tertiary trade union organisation (whose leave entitlement is unchanged) will be payable by their employer. All other permitted absences are unpaid. In these scenarios, the union officials' insurance contributions for the period of their trade union leave are paid by their organisation (trade union).
Changes to collective dismissals
In the context of a collective dismissal process, an employer may provide employees’ representatives with a social plan (that is, measures for mitigating the consequences of dismissals) during the consultation procedure. Copies of all documents provided to employees’ representatives during the consultation procedure must be submitted to the Supreme Council of Labour (Anotato Simvoulio Ergasias – ASE) and not the Minister of Labour or the Periphery. The consultation period lasts for 30 days, and the Minutes of the consultation procedure are to be submitted to the Supreme Council of Labour. If an agreement has been reached, then the collective dismissals can take place after ten days from the date that the Minutes were submitted.
If no agreement has been reached, then the ASE should issue a decision within ten days by which it examines if the employer has complied with its obligation to consult and to submit all required documents to the ASE. If ASE judges that the employer has abided by its obligations, dismissals are valid after 20 days from the date of the decision. If the employer has not abided by its obligations, then ASE extends the consultation procedure or sets a deadline for the employer to comply with its obligations. If ASE considers that after the extension of the consultation period or the set deadline all obligations have been fulfilled, then the collective dismissals are valid after 20 days from the date of issue of the decision. In any case, the dismissals are considered to be valid after 60 days from the date that the Minutes are submitted before ASE. Where a business is closed after a court decision is issued, the employer only needs to comply with the obligation regarding the consultation with employees’ representatives.
Delayed wage payment can be a unilateral detrimental change of employment terms
A significant delay in the payment of an employee’s wages is now considered to be a unilateral detrimental change of employment terms, regardless of the reason for this delay. As a result, an employee can consider that his or her employment contract has been terminated by the employer and demand legal severance pay.
Extension of parental leave
Female employees who have a child through surrogacy are now entitled to the special six-months’ maternity protection leave. Furthermore, under the new Law special parental leave is extended to natural or foster parents with a child of up to 18 years old suffering from a severe mental disability, Down’s Syndrome or autism. This special parental leave is paid and can be up to ten working days per annum.
Changes to claims for unpaid wages against employers
The procedure for obtaining an order for payment of unpaid wages has been made more specific and special conditions apply to its issuance. An employee may request that a competent judge issue a payment order for unpaid wages if the employment contract and wage entitlement is evidenced by a public or private document or by an interim measures decision that has been issued after admission of liability or acceptance of the application by the debtor. The employee must also serve the employer via a bailiff a written statement demanding payment of the amount owed at least 15 days prior to the filing of the application for issuance of a payment order.
Creation of databases of safety technicians and occupational health doctors
Electronic databases for the registration of safety technician and occupational health doctor data have been created. They will operate within the framework of the Integrated Informational System of SEPE (OPS – SEPE). These databases include everyone who meets the legal requirements for assuming the duties of safety technician or occupational health doctor. When these databases are fully functioning, employers will only be able to hire those who are registered in the relevant databases as safety technicians and occupational doctors, according to terms and procedures prescribed in Ministerial Decisions that will be issued.
Electronic notification of changes to working hours or organisation
Under the new regime employers are required to register any change or amendment in working hours or organisation of working time for employees in the Ministry of Labour’s information system ‘ERGANI’. The registration must be made no later than the day that the change takes effect, and in any case before any work is done by the employees. Employers also need to register the excess hours as well as lawful overtime worked by their employees before it commences. If the competent supervisory bodies find that there has been an amendment in the working hours of an employee or overtime employment that has not been declared according to the above provisions, administrative sanctions are imposed, namely a fine ranging from EUR 300 to EUR 50,000 as well as criminal sanctions (at least six months imprisonment or a penalty of EUR 900 euro or both).
Electronic registration of all employees in construction or technical work
An employer performing construction work or technical work is obliged to register all staff employed before the start of each working day electronically in the Integrated Informational System of Labour Inspection (OPS – SEPE). Administrative sanctions are imposed for non-compliance, from EUR 9,197.10 to EUR 10,550.54.
Revised administrative formalities for termination of employment
An employer is obliged to register each case of resignation, termination of an indefinite-term contract or expiry of a fixed-term or project contract electronically in the information system of the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Social Solidarity ‘ERGANI’, no later than four working days from contract termination or expiry. The announcement of employee resignation must be accompanied either by an electronically scanned form signed by the employer and the employee or by an extrajudicial statement from the employer to the employee in which the former informs the latter that he or she is considered as having left voluntarily and that his or her resignation will be registered in the ERGANI system. In the case of an extrajudicial statement, this should be served on the employee within four working days of departure. The ERGANI declaration is made the next working day after service of the extrajudicial statement. If the employer does not abide by these obligations, then the employment contract is considered to have been terminated by the employer (with all the legal consequences this entails, including obligation to pay severance).
New obligations on employee and employer relating to unemployment allowance
When an employee has exercised his right to consider any detrimental change of his or her employment terms as termination of his or her contract by the employer and thus becomes unemployed, he or she is entitled to an allowance from the Manpower Unemployment Organization (OAED). According to the new provisions, the unemployed worker should submit the extrajudicial statement exercising this right served on his or her employer to the OAED. They must also provide proof that the employer received notification. Within six months from the date the unemployed person files an application for an allowance, he or she must also submit to OAED either a document proving payment of the severance pay by the employer or a legal claim filed against the employer. If the unemployed person does not submit one of these documents, or if he or she does not submit the final decision accepting his or her claim, the unemployment allowance is stopped and amounts already received must be returned to the OAED.
Within 60 days from issue of a final decision regarding the employee’s legal claim, both the unemployed person and the employer (if the latter has been informed by OAED regarding the subsidy the former employee receives), are obliged to submit the issued decisions to OAED, otherwise a fine of EUR 300 euro will be imposed against each of them.
Amendments to the obligations and penalties upon employers for violations of Labour Law
During an audit conducted by the competent authorities for potential violations of labour law, those found in the workplace are required to show their identity card or other document proving their identity, if requested by the Labour Inspectors. Any employer who denies access to the workplace or fails to provide the above information or provides inaccurate information, is liable for an administrative penalty ranging from EUR 300 to EUR 50,000. Where the inspectors investigate, take pictures, videos or samples from a workplace for potential violations of labour legislation or occupational health and safety provisions any employer or third party who refuses access to the workplace, refuses to provide the above information or provides inaccurate information is also liable for the above penalties.
If the audit highlights infringements that pose a direct or serious risk to the health and safety of workers, the Labour Inspector can temporarily suspend the operations of the business, establishment or department, its equipment or part of its equipment until the employer fully complies with Law and the indications of the Inspector. If the company, after such a temporary suspension or the imposition of other administrative sanctions, continues systematically to violate the provisions of the law, causing direct or serious danger to its employees, then the Minister of Labor, Social Security and Social Solidarity may order the permanent cessation of the company’s operation, if the Inspector recommends it. Closure or cessation of business can only be imposed in cases of repeated violations of labour legislation.
The criminal sanctions for employers who violate labour legislation (at least six months imprisonment, a EUR 900 euro fine or both) are also imposed on employers who violate any order for temporary or permanent cessation of business operations as described above.
Employers are also now obliged to provide inspectors with a copy of the personnel listing for employees who work away from the organisation’s seat or branch office.
Extension of protection against dismissals for mothers
Protection against dismissal for women giving birth (up to 18 months after the birth of a child) is now extended to women employees who adopt a child of up to six years old as well as to those involved in a surrogacy process, whether they are carrying the child (birth mothers) or eventually raising the child (presumed mothers). This protection begins at the time the child is placed in the adopting family or at birth, respectively.
Extension of Financial Auditors’ duties
The Directorate of Financial Policy and the Special Secretariat for Financial and Economic Crime Unit are now authorised to conduct audits like those conducted by the competent authorities of the Social Security Carrier and the Labour Inspectorate. This means the Directorate of Financial Policy and the Special Secretariat for Financial and Economic Crime Unit will have the right to request and the employers the obligation to present to the auditors all documents, books, certificates and any kind of licenses that until now only had to be present to auditors of the Labour Inspectorate and inspectors of the social security carrier.
After presentation of this data, the auditors will have to draft and submit a report relaying the results of their audit to the authorities responsible for imposing the appropriate administrative penalties. If the relevant report states that the employer has not declared employees on the personnel list, the relevant administrative fines are imposed immediately.