A Spanish fashion house runs about 80 stores in Germany with approximately 4,500 employees. In one store, the manager spoke very little German. Negotiations with the works council and communication with the employees were both conducted in English.
The works council objected to this. Employees had complained that, for example, discussions with employees were only held in English. Furthermore, matters on the agenda in staff meetings were not translated sufficiently.
Works Council’s Right of Co-determination Not Violated
In addition, the works council considered that its co-determination rights had been infringed. Its injunction request, however, was unsuccessful and has now been rejected by the State Labor Court at Nuremberg, as it had been by the Labor Court Nuremberg.
The works council could not require superiors to exclusively speak German to their employees. As long as an interpreter is provided for the conversations , it is not a violation of the co-determination rights, the Higher Labor Court decided.
Discrimination and Freedom to Conduct Business
The consequence of works council’s request would be that only employees who speak German would be allowed to work in management positions. On the one hand, this would be discrimination against non-German speaking employees; on the other hand, it would be an inadmissible infringement of the freedom to conduct business, the employer explained.
The court followed this reasoning. Furthermore, there would be no significant limitations to the works council activities if it is ensured that store management communication takes place in an understandable manner and is perceived as such. The above reasoning includes that explanations in writing or text form must at least be provided in German if members of the works council do not speak the foreign language well enough. It is crucial that correspondence reaches the works council in a comprehensible form. Whether the employer’s representatives send correspondence in German or they are translated is irrelevant, stated the State Labor Court.
This also applies to oral statements. The court found that since an interpreter is always available during discussions with the works council, sufficient communication was ensured. It was not apparent that the works council was hindered in its work.
An employer cannot be required to ensure that its representatives communicate with the works council exclusively in German if a translation is arranged.