Protection Against Unjust Dismissal for German Executives

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In the United States, we are used to at-will employment. We know that we have no guarantee of being employed tomorrow or one year from now, and know that a pink slip can be given to anyone at anytime. Employees have accepted that and it is a tenet of US employment law. In contrast, employees in many other countries, especially Latin American and European ones, are provided much greater protections against unjust termination or wrongful dismissal. A recent German case underscored the differences between the two legal systems.

The case dealt with the wrongful termination of an executive. German law provides that if an employer employs more than 10 employees and the employment relationship in question has lasted for more than six months, a dismissal is lawful only if it is justified by urgent operational reasons, misconduct on the part of the employee or personal reasons.

Interestingly enough, in Germany, when an employee has made a successful claim against unfair dismissal before a labor court, the employment relationship must be continued. This can make for a difficult situation where the parties are forced to continue to work together, despite one having sued the other.

It never ceases to amaze me how differently countries approach the same issues. In the United States, we choose to believe in the free reins of the market, allowing employers and employees both to freely move from one employment relationship to another. In my opinion, this hurts the employee more than it does the employer, as there are always more warm bodies to fill a cubicle, but fewer jobs available for those who are let go. It often surprises me as well that we are content with the few protections that we give employees and with the greater freedoms given to employers to act in the ways that best suit their business interests, as the cost of employees’ well-being.

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