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When the company was not the boss

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Legal news
calendar 24 September 2023
globus Norway

After several internal whistleblower reports about condescending and aggressive behaviour, a company decided to strip a senior safety representative of his roles. The Norwegian District Court concluded that the company could not strip the safety representative of his role. Among other things, this was because he was elected by and represented the employees.

An employee in a large furniture company was both the local and central senior safety representative. As a result, he was on leave from his normal position in the kitchen department.

After receiving a report from a whistleblower regarding the employee, the company initiated an external whistleblower investigation. The investigation concluded that the employee had created an unsafe working environment. Because he had acted condescending, gotten mad, and made it hard to cooperate, some of his colleagues avoided involving the safety service he was a part of.

When the company received six other reports from local management, the employee was invited to a discussion meeting. Although he was still employed, the company stripped him of his role as the central senior safety representative.

After that, the employee returned to his normal job in the kitchen department. However, more reports were received by the company, and more discussion meetings were arranged. Eventually, the employee was also stripped of his local senior safety representative role. The decision to strip the employee of his two roles was unilateral from the company.

Safety representatives are elected, not selected

The court was split but concluded that the company could not strip the employee from his roles. This was because there was no legal basis for it and because of the safety representatives’ purpose in the company.

It was emphasized that although companies ultimately are responsible for ensuring a safe working environment, the safety representative acts for the employees. As such, the safety representative is elected by the employees or by the unions. Sometimes, the safest choice for the employees and the company’s interest do not match. In such instances, the safety representative will be a critical voice within the company to ensure the employees’ working environment. Because of this role, companies cannot unilaterally strip safety representatives of their roles.

IUNO’s opinion

There are no rules on whether companies unilaterally can strip a safety representative of their role. The case is the first time the question has been addressed in court, concluding that companies do not have this entitlement.

Although companies do not have the right to strip a safety representative of their role, the relevant union might. However, such a right is not established in law or court. Therefore, IUNO recommends that companies apply measures to ensure a safe working environment. As safety representatives are also employees, companies ultimately have the option of termination if they have sufficient justified cause.

[The Oslo District Court’s judgement of 21 August 2023 in case TOSL-2022-149053-2]

An employee in a large furniture company was both the local and central senior safety representative. As a result, he was on leave from his normal position in the kitchen department.

After receiving a report from a whistleblower regarding the employee, the company initiated an external whistleblower investigation. The investigation concluded that the employee had created an unsafe working environment. Because he had acted condescending, gotten mad, and made it hard to cooperate, some of his colleagues avoided involving the safety service he was a part of.

When the company received six other reports from local management, the employee was invited to a discussion meeting. Although he was still employed, the company stripped him of his role as the central senior safety representative.

After that, the employee returned to his normal job in the kitchen department. However, more reports were received by the company, and more discussion meetings were arranged. Eventually, the employee was also stripped of his local senior safety representative role. The decision to strip the employee of his two roles was unilateral from the company.

Safety representatives are elected, not selected

The court was split but concluded that the company could not strip the employee from his roles. This was because there was no legal basis for it and because of the safety representatives’ purpose in the company.

It was emphasized that although companies ultimately are responsible for ensuring a safe working environment, the safety representative acts for the employees. As such, the safety representative is elected by the employees or by the unions. Sometimes, the safest choice for the employees and the company’s interest do not match. In such instances, the safety representative will be a critical voice within the company to ensure the employees’ working environment. Because of this role, companies cannot unilaterally strip safety representatives of their roles.

IUNO’s opinion

There are no rules on whether companies unilaterally can strip a safety representative of their role. The case is the first time the question has been addressed in court, concluding that companies do not have this entitlement.

Although companies do not have the right to strip a safety representative of their role, the relevant union might. However, such a right is not established in law or court. Therefore, IUNO recommends that companies apply measures to ensure a safe working environment. As safety representatives are also employees, companies ultimately have the option of termination if they have sufficient justified cause.

[The Oslo District Court’s judgement of 21 August 2023 in case TOSL-2022-149053-2]

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Aurora Braut Bache

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