The April amendment to the Labour Code introduced changes aimed at ensuring, among other things, the preservation of a balance between employees’ private and professional lives. Undoubtedly, the expansion of certain rights and the introduction of new exemptions from work will result in greater flexibility in combining professional and family duties.
For employers, however, effective planning and organization of work can pose a significant challenge, especially in cases where employees are unexpectedly or for an extended period absent from work, and existing employees cannot be assigned, for example, to work overtime. In this context, questions arise about whether and when an employer can refuse an employee’s request for a specific leave or exemption from work, and when the employer is bound by the employee’s application.
Right to Care Leave
According to Article 173(1) § 1 of the Labour Code, an employee is entitled to care leave during the calendar year, for a duration of 5 days, to provide personal care or support to a family member or someone residing in the same household who requires care or support due to serious medical reasons. Family members include a son, daughter, mother, father, or spouse.
Importantly, any unused or partially used leave does not carry over to the next calendar year, and the employee forfeits the right to compensation during this period.
Leave is granted upon the employee’s request, submitted in written or electronic form no later than 1 day before the commencement of the leave. The application should specify the name of the person requiring care or support, the degree of relationship to the employee, or the respective residential address if the person is not a family member.
The regulations do not provide for the employer’s right to refuse the granting of this leave, as long as the request is submitted in a timely manner with all necessary information. Therefore, in principle, the employer cannot deny the employee the right to avail themselves of this entitlement.
Leave from Work due to Force Majeure
Since April 26 of this year, employees are entitled to leave from work within the calendar year, either for 2 days or 16 hours, due to the occurrence of force majeure in urgent family matters caused by illness or accident, provided the immediate presence of the employee is necessary. For part-time employees, the hourly dimension of this leave is determined proportionally to the employee’s working hours. During the utilization of this entitlement, the employee retains the right to half of the salary, and the method of its utilization is determined by the employee in the first application submitted in the given calendar year. As the provision does not specify the form of the application, it is considered that the employee can submit it in any form.
Considering the content of the regulation, leave from work is granted in situations that are extraordinary and unplanned. In such cases, the employer is obliged to grant leave from work upon a request submitted by the employee no later than on the day of using this leave.
The content of the provision raises controversy, as it essentially allows for the possibility that an employee may not appear at work or leave during its course, and only later (by the end of the day) submit a relevant application for leave from work due to force majeure. Such behaviour may cause concern among supervisors, who may only find out after the fact that an employee has suddenly left the workplace.
Changes in Parental Leave Regulations
In accordance with the requirements of the so-called work-life balance directive, amendments have been introduced into the Labour Code, stipulating that each parent is entitled to an exclusive right to 9 weeks of parental leave, and these rights cannot be transferred to the other parent of the child. The change in the duration of parental leave from 32 to 41 weeks aimed to encourage working fathers to take advantage of this leave.
It is worth noting that after the conclusion of parental leave, the employer is obliged to reintegrate the employee into the workforce in their previous position. If this is not feasible, the employee must be assigned to an equivalent position under terms no less favorable than those that would apply if the employee did not take this leave.
Required Consent of Parent-Employee with a Child Up to 8 Years Old
An employee raising a child until the age of 8 may not be employed in overtime hours, during the night shift, in a system involving, among others, interrupted working hours, or be delegated outside of the regular workplace without their consent. Until the implementation of the work-life balance directive, this regulation applied to employees caring for a child until the age of 4.
It is important to note that only one of the employed parents can exercise the aforementioned right.
Is an Employer Always Obligated to Grant Leave upon an Employee’s Request?
When comparing various entitlements, it is important to keep in mind that:
- For annual leave and leave on demand, the employer is not obligated to grant leave unconditionally, and in exceptional situations, the employer may refuse the employee based on specific circumstances that necessitate their presence.
- Regarding leave from work due to force majeure and carer’s leave, the employer is generally bound by a properly and timely submitted request.
- For occasional leave (related to, for example, the birth of an employee’s child or the death of a close person), its utilization should occur directly connected to the event justifying its granting, although the regulations themselves do not specify any deadlines in this regard.
Furthermore, according to Article 281 § 1 of the Labour Code, the violation of provisions concerning, among other things, the rights of employees related to parenthood or parental leave constitutes an offense against the rights of the employee.
Employers’ and Employees’ Concerns
The changes introduced to the Labour Code aim to enable employees to achieve a balance between their personal and professional lives, a goal that should generally be positively regarded. However, in certain cases, the wording of the regulations may raise concerns for both sides of the employment relationship.
Specific circumstances may allow an employee to take advantage of several types of work leave, and the decision on which entitlement to use will depend on the employee’s choice. From the employer’s perspective, it is advisable to clarify the differences in terms, the content of submitted applications, and the consequences of using a particular type of work leave.
This clarification can help avoid conflict situations and, additionally, assist both parties in understanding their rights and obligations in specific situations. This is particularly important because employers may expose themselves to misdemeanor liability by unjustifiably denying employees the opportunity to exercise their rights.
Taking this opportunity, we warmly invite you to an online conference this Thursday on “Mobbing, Discrimination, and Work-Life Balance – 3 Challenges for Organizations in Practice.” The event will cover topics related to work-life balance.
Maria Aleksiejak, Trainee attorney-at-law (PL)