Staff meeting during sick leave

An employer is normally not allowed to invite employees during sick leave to staff meeting (Federal Labor Court, decision dated November 02, 2016 – 10 AZR 596/15)

Staff meetings are an important element in company practice. Staff meetings are always allowed if there is a legitimate reason for them in an employment relationship. But how should one evaluate the case where an employer calls upon the employee to attend a staff meeting to discuss whether to continue the employment despite the employee's work incapacity?

The Federal Labor Court has now decided that an employee on sick leave is generally not obliged to appear at work for a staff meeting upon instruction of the employer.

In the case decided, the claimant was initially employed at the respondent company as a medical aide and was most recently – following a longer accident-related work incapacity – up to December 31, 2013, assigned on a fixed-term basis as a medical documentation assistant. From the end of November 2013 to mid-February 2014, the claimant was again absent on sick leave. The respondent invited him with a letter dated December 18, 2013 to a staff meeting on January 6, 2014 “to clarify the option of further employment”. The employer declined, citing his medically-confirmed work incapacity. The employer dispatched a new invitation to him for January 11, 2014, accompanied by the note that the claimant was required to provide information on medical obstacles by submitting a special medical certificate. The employee did not show up to this meeting either, citing his work incapacity. Subsequently, the employer issued him a formal warning on February 18, 2014.

The Federal Labor Court granted the employee the entitlement to have the warning deleted from the personnel file. In the view of the Federal Labor Court, the employee’s work duties basically also include the duty to participate in staff meetings. However, since the employee is not required to fulfill his work duties during the time of sick leave, he is generally not obliged to show up at the company or fulfill other ancillary duties directly associated with his main performance.

The contrary would apply only if in an exceptional case it were indispensable for such a conversation to personally take place in the company, and the employee’s health enabled him to do so. The employer must demonstrate a legitimate interest for this and restrict the contact to a reasonable scope of time.

Practical recommendations:

Related to practice, this judgment demonstrates that staff meetings within the scope of managing the operational integration during the employee’s sick leave are only allowed in the rarest of cases. The employer should precisely examine whether there are legitimate interests on his side that justify initiating contact with the employee in a reasonable scope, despite an illness.

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Tags: #Labour law, #Newsletter Employment Law 2/17

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