The works meeting

Labor law for employers and employees

The works meeting

Law office BAUMFALK in Kerpen-Horrem and Witten

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A works meeting is a gathering of all employees of a company or business. This also includes employees who work exclusively in the field. The requirements for a meeting are laid down in the Works Constitution Act. More precisely in the paragraphs 42 to 46 BetrVG. There, among other things, the composition of the meeting, regular works and department meetings, the timing and the loss of earnings, the topics of the works and department meetings or but also the commissioners and associations are regulated in more detail. The invitation to the works meeting is issued by the Works Council and also chaired by the latter, or more specifically by the Chairman of the Works Council. It is important to note that not everyone is allowed to attend this meeting. Since this meeting is one of the company or enterprise, it is deliberately not held in public.

Unfortunately, it is possible that not every employee will be able to attend the planned meeting. This results from very different reasons, such as shift work of a manufacturing company. If this is the case, the company is permitted to hold so-called partial meetings. This is regulated in more detail by the § Section 42 (1) BetrVG. According to the § Section 42 (2) of the Works Constitution Act there is a departmental meeting for employees who are organizationally or spatially in another part of the company. Here, too, the departmental meeting is chaired by a member of the Works Council. The departmental meeting, like the works meeting, is not open to the public and is conceivable as a partial meeting. However, the departmental meeting must be necessary to discuss the interests of the employees.

In general, a works meeting must be held and convened in each calendar quarter. At this meeting, the works council must present an activity report and the employer must present an annual report. In general, the Works Council but have a good method of making a works meeting not boring. For example, he should involve the employees in the discussion or bring them into the conversation. The employee should therefore not only use a works meeting to escape his workplace for a happy 2 hours, but rather use his chance to participate and also contribute to what is happening in the company. There is seldom a better opportunity to point out grievances, to avoid misunderstandings, or to strengthen the company climate. A proper works meeting therefore requires a high level of planning and commitment on the part of the works council. If a works meeting goes well, the workforce or employees will talk about it for a long time afterwards, or will be disappointed if the meeting does not go as he or she had hoped.

However, in addition to the mandatory works meetings, further works meetings can be held at any time if the company has an important reason for doing so. This could be, for example, a departmental or partial plant closure. In this case, the works council has the right or even the obligation to call a works meeting and to include the necessary important reason on the agenda. The obligation to do so also arises if the meeting is called at the request of the employer or of at least one quarter of the employees entitled to vote. The location of the works meeting is usually decided by agreement between the employer and the Works Council in the plant itself. A suitable room or, in the case of very large companies, a production hall or cafeteria of the company is used for this purpose. If the employer and the works council do not agree directly and find a peaceful solution, in the case of a dispute the Works Council himself where the meeting will take place. If the place is therefore outside the company, the employer bears the full costs of the works meeting alone.

The works council is also responsible for convening the meeting and decides on this in a proper works council meeting. The works council shall be responsible for planning the topics for discussion and shall record these in an agenda. This is also based on the motions submitted by the employer or by the employees (at least one quarter of those entitled to vote). It remains a prerequisite that the motions are taken into account if and to the extent that the proper conduct of the works meeting can still be guaranteed. If a works meeting is held in the company, the employer must report on certain contents (provided that business secrecy is not affected). This is, among other things, the operational environmental protection, the economic situation and the planned development of the company, the further and so far implemented integration of the foreign workers employed in the company and the personnel and social affairs. 

In particular, the employer must ensure in its execution that it also addresses the issue of equality between men and women in the company. Business secrets or trade secrets may and must not be mentioned. This may concern, for example, recipes, various techniques or other information that is considered to be confidential to competitors and the general public.

Nevertheless, all topics may be addressed, such as collective bargaining, sociopolitical or economic aspects of all kinds. Secret recording of conversations or statements made at the works meeting is prohibited. This would violate the principle of cooperation based on trust and the individual personal rights of the participants. If there is a recording which is not secret, the meeting chairperson must expressly point this out to the persons taking part. In the context of the Corona pandemic, it was also possible to record company meetings through the version of the § 129 BetrVG by means of video and or telephone conferences. The reason for this was to reduce the risk of contagion among employees and other participants in the works meeting. However, since the digital works meeting was possibly opposed by violated personal rights or data protection rights, the implementation was not clarified for a long time. 

This was because recordings or sound recordings could have been made secretly. Another argument against holding company meetings in digital form was the usual dynamic of a company meeting, which could be lost if the participants could only experience the meeting via the screen. Reasons for the video meeting in the positive were among other things the cost saving, the integration of field staff abroad, the simple execution by use of Smartphones or even the containment of the Corona pandemic by lowering the infection risk. For this reason, the § 129 BetrVG extended up to and including March 19, 2022. The current holding of the works meeting by video and or telephone conference is no longer possible and there is no further entitlement to this type of holding.

The meeting itself shall take place during working hours, unless an exception must be made by the employee's own company practice. Should an employee wish to comment on a particular point at the meeting, he must in any case be given an opportunity to do so. Likewise, employees can submit motions to the works council and comment comprehensively. It is particularly important to note that not only the time spent at the works meeting itself, but also the time spent traveling to and from the meeting must be compensated to the employees as working time. The employer must bear the full cost of any travel expenses incurred and reimburse these to the employees. A problem arises if topics are discussed at the works meeting that violate all of the above principles and the head of the company is unable to comply with them. Works Council fails to take action against these conversations or to stop them. 

Consequently, the employer then has the right to reduce wages for the period of this issue. It is important to note that failure to comply with this obligation on the part of the employees may jeopardize industrial peace. Likewise, the employer is not obliged to entertain the participants during the works meeting. Should the works council provide or have provided hospitality, the works council is not entitled to claim reimbursement of costs from the employer. The reason for this is that the Works Constitution Act does not impose any obligation on the works council to provide hospitality.

A works meeting is usually attended by other participants in addition to the works council and the normal employees. These could be, in particular, the employer, executive employees as guests, non-eligible temporary workers, commissioned trade unions, employers' associations, members from outside the company or other persons, provided that their participation serves the purpose of holding the works meeting as such and is also relevant.

If there are trade unions behind the plants, they must in any case be informed of the time and agenda of the works meeting. The reason for this is that the representatives or agents of the trade unions are entitled to attend the works meeting if they see a reason to do so. It is not possible for the works council or the employer to prevent the trade union representatives from attending. However, this does not apply to employers' associations. These do not have their own right to participate in a works meeting. It is very important to note that the peace within the company and work processes must not be disturbed at any time. Thus, topics of conversation such as political activities, insulting or hurtful statements are prohibited and, in case of doubt, must be prevented by the meeting leader. In case of doubt, the disruptive person may also be excluded from the entire works meeting and expelled from the room.

If there is a current labor dispute, it is still possible to hold a works meeting and have it take place. The following applies in accordance with § Section 72 (2) BetrVG a ban on fighting at the works meeting, but this does not prevent the works meeting from being held. However, this only applies to the extent that the works meeting is used as an information tool for the employees and not as a means of struggle. The use of the works meeting by the works council as a means of struggle (exemplary is the scheduling during a very high workload) without a permissible reason, this can be evaluated as an impermissible measure of struggle. Remuneration in connection with a works meeting during an industrial dispute must nevertheless be paid. A works meeting may also not be used by the works council to create a salary or wage for the employees. This could be interpreted as interference in the parity of the struggle.

Procedural aspects are equally relevant. For example, disputes in connection with works meetings are governed by labor law Regulations. The competent court is therefore also the labor court in resolution proceedings. Here, breach of duty proceedings (in the event of failure to issue an invitation to the meeting in good time) can be an example of a point in dispute. However, if the point in dispute is the wage that the employer does not wish to pay for the duration of the works meeting, this is to be litigated in the labor courts in judgment proceedings.

The works meeting must be distinguished from a staff meeting called by the employer. Thus, the employer can determine the content, place and time of the work performance at his discretion through his right of direction. Employee meetings are used, for example, to comply with the employer's prescribed obligations to provide information and clarification. This is the case, for example, if it is not possible for the employer to fulfill his obligation to inform and educate employees in individual discussions between him and the employees. The employee is also obligated to participate in this meeting. In comparison between the employee meeting and the works meeting, the employer may not use an employee meeting as a countermeasure to the works meeting. This would be assumed at least if the employee meeting is very close in time to the works meeting. Among other things, however, also if the employer refuses to participate in the actual works meeting or, should he participate, does not or not sufficiently fulfill his reporting obligation.

If the employer wishes to hold an employee meeting outside working hours, this measure is subject to co-determination if the employer exercises its right of direction or if the employee has an obligation to the employer during this time which obliges him to attend. The employee meeting is also not public and is convened and chaired by the chairman of the employee representative committee. The employee meeting must also take place at least once a year. The employee meeting must normally take place during working hours, but only if there are no official or operational reasons to the contrary. As in the case of the works meeting, the time of participation and also the travel time must be remunerated as working time. The employer may not make any exceptions to this rule. The fundamental difference therefore remains that the works meeting is an exchange of information between the works council and the employer or employee and the employee meeting is a communication between employer and employee.

The Youth and Trainee Assembly

Youth and apprentice assembly

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The youth and trainee meeting is also not to be confused with the works meeting. This is the mouthpiece of the youth and apprentice representation to present their work, to inform and also to talk to the apprentices and younger employees about their possible problems and concerns. In most cases, there is also an employer's representative available here who can immediately make suggestions for improvement or even demands. The convocation of the meeting is in the exact however dependent on the permission of the work council. The organization and the execution of the meeting resemble thereby the work meeting. As in the other meetings, the respective leader usually takes the lead. 

Thus, in the case of the youth and trainee meeting, it would be the head of the JAV. Consequently, the head also assumes and distributes the right to speak. Neither participants of the works council nor the employer's representation can and may disregard this right. Here, too, the meeting takes place during working hours and the respective trainees and representatives must be released for the duration of the meeting. This also applies to full pay. The salary may therefore not be reduced here either.

In general, therefore, it can be summarized that there are or will be a variety of possibilities that enable an employee or a trainee to speak up within the company. Representatives are sent out who can stand up for the respective concerns of the persons concerned and thus improve the climate in the company. You just have to take advantage of this opportunity.