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Changing the content of the employment relationship by oral agreement

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In its decision from this February, the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic (hereinafter “the Supreme Court”) dealt, among other things, with an oral agreement regarding a change in the content of an employee’s employment relationship and its effect on the labour relationship.

Female employee with first degree disability

In the given case, the employee in question worked for the employer on the basis of an employment contract as a security guard for property and persons, and due to her medical condition, she had been granted first degree disability prior to her employment, of which the employer had been informed.

The employee in question subsequently worked only day shifts by verbal agreement with the employer, and both the initial and a subsequent medical examination confirmed that she was fit to work day shifts.

Change of employer’s organisation and dismissal

Following a change in the employer’s organisation, the employee was subsequently sent for an extraordinary medical examination after several years, according to which she was found to be medically unfit in the long-term for night work, and on the same day she was given notice of termination of employment by her employer on based on section 52(1) of Act. 262/2006 Coll., the Labour Code (hereinafter “the Labour Code”), because, according to the medical report, the employee had lost her medical capacity to perform the work specified in the employment contract, i.e. work consisting of two-shift operation within the day and night regime.

Proceedings before the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal

The employee subsequently sought a declaration from the Court of First Instance that the aforementioned termination of her employment due to her medical incapacity was invalid. She argued, among other things, that by oral agreement with her employer, her working time was defined in more detail as a single-shift day only.

However, neither the first instance nor the Court of Appeal found in favour of the employee and did not consider the oral agreement between the employee and the employer on the allocation of working time to be substantial. The courts argued that such an arrangement was not part of the written employment contract.

Proceedings before the Supreme Court

The employee succeeded only before the Supreme Court, which objected to the previous decisions of the lower courts on the grounds that the lower courts had overlooked the fact that the parties to an employment relationship may agree on the timetable of working hours additionally and that employment law is based on the principle that if an act was not performed in the form required by the Labour Code and the performance has already begun, the invalidity of the act cannot be invoked.

Therefore, if the principle described above is applied to the present case, in the opinion of the Supreme Court, it must be concluded that the employer was obliged to assign the employee to work only on a single-shift basis, as agreed on the basis of an oral agreement, without being entitled to unilaterally change the working conditions thus agreed.

In such a case, the medical report on the employee’s medical fitness did not refer to the work that the employee actually performed and thus could not constitute the basis for a valid termination of employment on the grounds of medical unfitness under Section 52(e) of the Labour Code.

At the end of its decision, the Supreme Court emphasized that it is the employer’s general duty to assign the employee to work that corresponds to his or her medical condition.

Thus, as the above case shows, even the general principle that only a written employment contract is decisive for the content of the employment relationship and its change has its limits.

Author: Veronika Odrobinová, Jessica Vaculíková

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