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Removing work tasks did not constitute a termination

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Legal news
calendar 26 September 2021
globus Sweden

Two employees at Stockholm University were informed that they would no longer be allowed to devote 30 percent of their working time to research and skill development. Instead, that time had to be spent teaching. According to the employees, the change meant that their employment had changed so fundamentally that it constituted a termination. The Swedish Labour Court did not agree as the tasks did not follow from their employment contracts.

Since the beginning of their employment, two lecturers at Stockholm University had been allowed to devote 30 percent of their working time to research and skill development. However, following a decision by their employer, they were instructed that this allocation of their working time was not longer possible. Instead, they would have to spend that time on teaching.

Because the two employees both considered that the decision to remove these work tasks was so fundamental that it constituted their termination, the case ended before the Swedish Labour Court.

Within the employer’s managerial right to remove work tasks

As a main rule, it is within the managerial right to change an employee’s work tasks. However, only to a certain extent, as more fundamental changes to the work tasks may otherwise lead to it being considered a termination with an offer of employment on new terms.

In this case, the main issue was therefore also if the employment of the two employees had changed so fundamentally that it constituted a termination. Pursuant to the Swedish Labour Court, it did not.

According to the court, it had been within the employer’s managerial right to remove the work tasks. The court pointed towards the fact that both employees were employed with the title “lecturer” and that their employment contracts did not mention any entitlement to spend time on tasks relating to research and skill development. Also, it had originally been the employer’s choice that 30 percent of the working time could be used on those tasks for a while. On that basis, the work tasks could be removed lawfully.

IUNO’s opinion

This judgement shows that if companies let employees have other or extended tasks in relation to what was agreed in the employment contract, or what follows from the nature of their position, it is as a main rule within the managerial right to remove such tasks again, unless otherwise agreed.

IUNO recommends that when assigning new work tasks, companies are careful that those changes do not fundamentally change the position at the same time. It is therefore important to know where the line goes when handing out tasks. If in doubt, companies should seek legal advice.

[The Swedish Labour Court Case 37/2021 of 18 August 2021]

Since the beginning of their employment, two lecturers at Stockholm University had been allowed to devote 30 percent of their working time to research and skill development. However, following a decision by their employer, they were instructed that this allocation of their working time was not longer possible. Instead, they would have to spend that time on teaching.

Because the two employees both considered that the decision to remove these work tasks was so fundamental that it constituted their termination, the case ended before the Swedish Labour Court.

Within the employer’s managerial right to remove work tasks

As a main rule, it is within the managerial right to change an employee’s work tasks. However, only to a certain extent, as more fundamental changes to the work tasks may otherwise lead to it being considered a termination with an offer of employment on new terms.

In this case, the main issue was therefore also if the employment of the two employees had changed so fundamentally that it constituted a termination. Pursuant to the Swedish Labour Court, it did not.

According to the court, it had been within the employer’s managerial right to remove the work tasks. The court pointed towards the fact that both employees were employed with the title “lecturer” and that their employment contracts did not mention any entitlement to spend time on tasks relating to research and skill development. Also, it had originally been the employer’s choice that 30 percent of the working time could be used on those tasks for a while. On that basis, the work tasks could be removed lawfully.

IUNO’s opinion

This judgement shows that if companies let employees have other or extended tasks in relation to what was agreed in the employment contract, or what follows from the nature of their position, it is as a main rule within the managerial right to remove such tasks again, unless otherwise agreed.

IUNO recommends that when assigning new work tasks, companies are careful that those changes do not fundamentally change the position at the same time. It is therefore important to know where the line goes when handing out tasks. If in doubt, companies should seek legal advice.

[The Swedish Labour Court Case 37/2021 of 18 August 2021]

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Anders

Etgen Reitz

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Etgen Reitz

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