Employers often face challenges in how to structure their workforce when employees leave for maternity and parental leave, bearing in mind their statutory obligation to save the workplace for when the employee returns from the leave. As a matter of Czech law, an employee is entitled to maternity/parental leave of up to three years.
Czech labour law gives employers an option to engage a new hire as a temporary replacement for the duration of the particular employee’s maternity/parental leave without a requirement to state an exact "from-to" time period. The only limitation is a maximum duration of three years, which may be prolonged (a maximum of) twice. Nevertheless, such a position is of course not very appealing to potential new hires due to its insecurity. For this reason, employers tend to (sometimes after an initial one-year limited term) hire the employee for an indefinite term despite the position actually being only as a temporary replacement.
As a result, once the employees return from their leave, they are often dismissed on the grounds of their redundancy since there are now two employees for only one position.
The Czech Supreme Court has repeatedly held that these are not valid redundancy reasons and that the employer may not use these as a solution for its incorrect workforce structuring. An employee becomes redundant if, on the basis of organisational change, the employee’s original work is (fully or partially) no longer needed by the employer.
In the case at hand, the employee’s position of HR Vice President was eliminated and replaced with a position entitled HR and Property Administration Vice President, for which a new employee was hired. The employer claimed that merging the two positions was necessary to align the local company structure with the group structure and that the new position significantly differs from the original one. On the basis of this organisational change, the employee was dismissed after her return from parental leave on the redundancy grounds.
The Czech Supreme Court held that the employee did not become redundant due to the organisational change but due to the fact that there was another employee employed for an indefinite term in that position. This was supported by the fact that the original tasks remained the same (and new ones were added) and were performed by a new employee. Thus, the employer could not claim that such work was no longer needed.
Wrongful dismissal lawsuits are by far the most frequent employee lawsuits in the Czech Republic, with one of the main reasons for dismissal being the employee’s redundancy.