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Legal Eye: Termination tales

  • Poland
  • Other

19-09-2011

Need a sure-fire conversation starter? Ask a business person in Poland about the Employee-Who-Couldn’t-Be-Fired. You are bound to be regaled with a lengthy tale of frustration resulting from the conniving use of legal loopholes by an otherwise worthless employee.

Little wonder then that Polish employers seek to avoid entering into long-term (standard) employment contracts. To put matters in perspective, however, there are other European countries in which it is significantly more difficult to fire employees (France, for example).

Short-term options to the standard employment contract also exist, but one of these options is phasing out soon.

Crying wolf?

Difficult employees and perceived injustices make for lively cautionary tales, but how difficult is it really to fire an employee in Poland? Well, Polish labor law is all about the procedures. If you follow them, you should be able to fire your employee in a matter of months. This is assuming, of course, that the employee does not resort to guerrilla tactics.

The first thing to determine is the statutory notice period. For a standard employment contract, it is usually three months. If the employee has worked for you for less than three years, the statutory notice period could be as little as two weeks. There is one more complication: the notice period continues until the end of the month. Thus, if you give notice at the beginning of a month, your employee gets almost four months’ notice.

In this notice, the employer must give a reason for the termination. As labor courts are notoriously employee-friendly, you should put some effort into preparing a plausible reason for the termination.

As protections to employees, Polish law does not allow termination notice to be given to an employee under certain circumstances. Among these are when an employee is on sick leave or is pregnant. A common variation of a termination tale involves the employee who has suddenly gone on sick leave after learning that his job is in jeopardy.

Alternatives

There are some short-term alternatives to the standard employment agreement. The two most common are trial period contracts and fixed-term employment contracts.

Hiring someone new, maybe fresh out of school? A trial period contract allows for an extended look-see. The maximum length of this type of contract is three months, and it may be terminated on two weeks’ notice. At the end of the three months, if you decide not to prolong the employment, the contract ends. You don’t need to give notice or prepare reasons for firing.

The same principles hold for fixed-term contracts. There is no minimum or maximum length. If the contract term is more than six months, you may include a possibility to terminate the contract on two weeks’ notice. Again, at the end of the contract term, you and your former employee can go your separate ways – no explanations or notices necessary.

However, there is a major limitation to fixed-term contracts. The third fixed-term contract in a row (with less than a month between them) becomes a standard employment contract.

Crisis flexibility

As part of the anti-crisis legislation of 2009, employers were given additional flexibility on fixed-term contracts. Instead of limiting the number of consecutive fixed-term contracts, this legislation focused on the overall time period. It allows any number of fixed-term contracts for 24 months. After that period, the contract is deemed to be long-term.

The anti-crisis legislation is set to expire at the end of this year. As it became effective in August 2009, you should check whether you’ve reached 24 months on any of your backto-back fixed-term contracts.

Source: Judith Gliniecki, Ewa Łachowska-Brol, Warsaw Business Journal, 19th September 2011

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Renata Misiewicz
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renata.misiewicz@eversheds-sutherland.pl