This article summarises the most important developments that took effect on 1 January 2019 in Norwegian employment law and one development anticipated later in the year.
By: Katarina Lægreid Buzatu
1. Strengthened preferential right for part-time employees from 1 January 2019
In accordance with The Norwegian Working Environment Act (‘WEA’), part-time employees have the right to increase their working hours within their position, rather than the employer hiring a new employee. This is dependent upon the employee being eligible for the position and it being possible to implement without significant disadvantage to the employer.
In a decision by the Supreme Court in 2016, it was decided that part-time employees did not have the right to exercise preferential rights to only part or a share of a vacant position. This decision departed from a former long-observed practice. For the sake of the purpose of the preferential right, section 14-3 (1) of the WEA is now amended to make it clear that part-time employees may have preferential rights to only part or a share of a vacant position. Also, in these cases the preferential right will be conditional upon it being possible to implement without significant disadvantage to the employer. The fact that the employer is left with a position for which may be difficult to recruit qualified applicants may constitute such a significant disadvantage. This could also be the case if the implementation of preferential rights to only part of a position means that the business has more, and not fewer, part-time employees.
The amendment entered into force on 1 January 2019.
2. Amendments to the rules on permanent employment from 1 January 2019
Permanent employment is the default rule in the WEA. From 1 January 2019 the WEA section 14-9 (1) defines the content of this form of employment. According to the section, the employment has to be continuing and for an unlimited period of time to be defined as ‘permanent’. The employee is also guaranteed stability of work in the form of an actual position. From 1 January 2019, the employment agreement shall determine or provide a basis for calculating when the work is to be carried out, as well as the working conditions under in which the work is performed.
The purpose of defining the term ‘permanent employment’ in the WEA is to create greater predictability in employment and to ensure that companies do not circumvent the WEA’s conditions for temporary employment.
3. Changes to the rules on hiring from temporary employment agencies, effective from 1 January 2019
From 1 January 2019, restrictions on the right to hire workers from temporary employment agencies entered into force. Only employers that are bound by a collective agreement that was entered into with a trade union and that are entitled to submit recommendations pursuant to the Labour Disputes Act or the Civil Service Disputes Act can enter into an agreement with employees` representatives on engaging work assistance from temporary employment agencies without having to apply the ordinary, strict conditions for hiring temporary employees according to the WEA section 14-9.
Under the previous rules, it was sufficient to enter into an agreement with a local union: this option is no longer valid. For existing agreements with local unions, this amendment will be effective from 1 July 2019.
4. Decisions from the Dispute Resolution Board have legal force from 1 January 2019
The Dispute Resolution Board, pursuant to the WEA, is a low-threshold service for resolving certain disputes between employee and employer, among other things regarding preferential rights for part-time employees. From 1 January 2019, the status of the Dispute Resolution Board's decisions will be strengthened by the law, which establishes that they will have the same legal force as those handed down by the courts.
5. Changes in the rules on duty of remuneration during lay-off entered into force 1 January 2019
From 1 January 2019, the period which the employer has to pay the employee wage at the beginning of a lay-off is increased from ten to 15 days. In addition, the maximum lay-off period is reduced from 49 weeks to 26 weeks.
6. Proposal to increase the discrimination committee's authority for cases regarding sexual harassment
In July 2018, the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion sent out a consultation paper with proposals for the establishment of a low-threshold service for cases regarding sexual harassment. According to current law, cases of sexual harassment has to be heard by the courts, while cases regarding harassment and discrimination on other grounds can be heard by the discrimination committee.
A committee hearing is free of charge, while court proceedings can become expensive. Case law shows that the courts hear very few cases relating to sexual harassment, whilst at the same time research shows that incidents of sexual harassment in Norway are extensive. The Ministry finds this situation unsatisfactory in terms of providing legal safeguards for the harassment victims, and has proposed a legislative amendment that gives the committee authority to hear cases relating to sexual harassment.
The time limit for comments on the consultation paper was in October 2018, and these comments are now being examined by the Ministry. It is probable that the proposal will be considered by the legislator in 2019.