In its final session before the general election, Parliament passed a bill which serves as a first step in harmonising the different legal regimes covering blue-collar and white-collar employees. However, not everyone is happy with this half-hearted harmonisation project – most notably, employer organisations – as they believe that the extended notice period for blue-collar workers will cost employers dearly.
In the run up to the recent snap elections, Parliament passed a bill exempting rent agreements for residential leases from stamp duty. The stamp duty on non-residential leases – in particular, commercial and retail leases – remains unchanged. However, these leases are being re-evaluated due to recent case law from the tax authorities.
As of May 1 2018 smoking in restaurants and bars will be prohibited. The restrictions on smoking in the workplace will also be tightened as of this date. However, the new provisions still afford some leeway to employers in that they can organise smoking breakrooms. As a consequence, the workplace may be more smoker friendly than pubs – who would have imagined that.
In 2015 Austria introduced an act which allows individuals, under certain conditions, to challenge laws before the Constitutional Court as unconstitutional. This gave hope to many landlords, which saw this as a tool to challenge the existing rent control regulations. The Constitutional Court recently handed down two new decisions on the same matter with surprising results.
New legislation recently came into effect that aims to ease the process of reintegration into the workplace for employees who have been on extended sick leave and who would benefit from a reduced workload in order to aid rehabilitation and reconnect with the workplace. Although it is a well-meant initiative to curb the increase in long-term sickness, the legal framework reveals some major flaws.
The Vienna International Arbitral Centre (VIAC) recently obtained the right to administer domestic cases. The new law has received a warm welcome in Austria and is another sign of the quality of the VIAC's work and the confidence in its services. The VIAC has already established a working group to implement the proposed changes into the Rules of Arbitration and Conciliation in order to reflect this positive development.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether an arbitral award rendered in connection with licensing for the Austrian First Division Football League had to be set aside because of an alleged infringement of public policy. The decision is particularly interesting because the court had to tackle the sensitive issue of a possible infringement of substantive Austrian public policy in a situation where a party was forced to enter into an arbitration agreement with a dominant counterparty.
Two recent amendments to the Labour Relations Act benefit the legal status of works councils and are geared towards increasing older employees' job prospects. In particular, the term of office for members of a works council has been extended from four to five years. Works council members' entitlement to educational leave has also been extended. Further, the special treatment of employees who start employment at age 50 or older has been abolished.
The Supreme Court recently ruled on the thin line between the freedoms to provide services afforded under EU law and member states' legislation to contain social dumping, which can be extended to employers of other member states when they perform their services abroad. The decision clarifies that foreign minimum wage legislation will be avoided where its application poses an undue burden on employers and where it can be guaranteed that the purpose of minimum wage legislation is not undermined.
The Act on Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities recently entered into full force. The act prohibits, among other things, constructional barriers which prevent or impede disabled individuals from entering a building without help. While the act primarily addresses persons offering goods or services in such buildings, it also has implications for persons publicly offering real estate. In addition, the act has a significant impact on existing and new lease agreements.
The Supreme Court recently considered if and under what circumstances defective reasoning of an arbitral award may lead to its annulment under the Arbitration Law. In a deviation from previous case law and views expressed by the majority of Austrian legal scholars, the court held that the requirement of sound reasoning is a fundamental principle of the Austrian legal system, and thus that an arbitrator's failure to comply with this constitutes a violation of procedural public policy.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that a retirement policy which makes redundant all employees who are entitled to early retirement is discriminatory and, as a direct form of age discrimination, cannot be justified by claiming that such a policy amounts to a socially compatible form of redundancy. The decision indicates that the requirement to consider social selection and weigh social hardship can also qualify as a justification for age discrimination.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that the wearing of a niqab need not be tolerated by an employer because, although religious dress is protected under anti-discrimination legislation, it is one of the basic rules of interpersonal communication that facial expressions be visible. Further, although an employer's prohibition on religious dress amounts to direct religious discrimination, this ban can be justified as an occupational requirement.
In a recent decision the Supreme Court considered whether a lunch attended by a sole arbitrator and a party's counsel could give rise to doubts regarding the arbitrator's impartiality and independence. This decision serves as a reminder that arbitrators should disclose all circumstances that could give rise to a challenge and proceed with the utmost care when a challenge has been dismissed.
While the Rent Act applies to both residential and commercial leases, there are some exceptions that give landlords greater flexibility with regard to their lease agreements. In particular, the act does not apply to buildings which house no more than two units. The Supreme Court recently considered whether a storage room and a separate building contained on the same property should be taken into account when applying this two-unit rule.
In a recent decision with potentially far-reaching consequences, the Court of Appeals for the Vienna Circuit ruled that a peculiar provision in the Act on Rest Periods violates EU law and must therefore be disregarded by the courts. The court of appeals gave leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court hears the case and upholds the court of appeal's decision, Austrian employees may soon celebrate yet another public holiday.
In an effort to alleviate the pressure on the real estate market, the Vienna City Council recently amended the Building Code. This amendment authorises the city, among other things, to conclude urban development contracts as a means of expediting private investment in real estate projects. Since the amendment entered into force, the city has concluded several contracts with real estate owners.
The Supreme Court recently considered several formal objections under the New York Convention, as well as several alleged grounds for refusal. The court adopted a rather strict approach with regard to the authentication requirement under the convention, while reiterating that the convention should generally be interpreted in favour of the recognition and enforcement of foreign awards.
The Supreme Court recently sought to set the standard for an employer's right to introduce or enforce a dress code. Basing its decision on the privacy rights under the Civil Code and the European Convention on Human Rights, the court clarified that an employee's outer appearance is his or her private affair, and that the test to be applied as to where this privacy ends is trustworthiness. Although clear-cut in theory, the guidance leaves considerable leeway for interpretation.
Tenants sometimes refuse to vacate a leased premise after the expiry of their contract in the hopes of extending their lease or getting the landlord to pay them off (instead of undertaking a cumbersome eviction process), or for other reasons. The Supreme Court recently demonstrated that such tactics are not without risk, as tenants may face direct damage claims by successors.