Lost in Translation – Employer representative does not have to speak German with the works council

The works council is not entitled to demand that the employer’s representative speaks German if sufficient translation is guaranteed in the company, according to the Regional Labor Court (Landesarbeitsgericht – LAG Nuremberg, decision dated 18 June, 2020 – 1 TaBV 33/19.

In the case on which the decision was based, the works council of an international fashion group had had filed a complaint. The defendant appointed a branch manager in a Nuremberg branch, who initially spoke little German. The branch manager therefore conducted staff meetings, job interviews and personnel interviews in English. The defendant’s company did not have a guideline for the company language. According to the works council, employees had complained because only part of the interviews had been translated by the department heads. The defendant had therefore violated the requirement to use German and thus infringed the works council’s co-determination rights.

The LAG Nuremberg rejected this view. Accordingly, the works council cannot demand that the employer itself or the representative appointed by the employer only communicate with the works council in a way in which the employer’s representative sent to the meetings or hearings only speaks exclusively German. What is decisive is that all statements made by the employer representative are made in an easy-to-understand form and that the statements made by works council members to the employer representative can also be received. This means that statements made by the employer representative – whether in writing, text or verbal form – to works council members must at least be made in German if they do not (sufficiently) speak the foreign language. It is irrelevant in this context whether the texts are personally written in German by the employer or his representative appointed by him. The decisive factor is that the texts in German must reach the works council and can be sent by the works council members to the employer’s representatives. This can be ensured by using an interpreter.

Especially internationally operating companies will benefit from this decision. Accordingly, employers can also appoint foreign-language managers as contact persons for the works council as long as it is ensured that communication between the works council and the employer is mutually understood. The latter is of key importance, as the risk of incorrect translations is borne by the employer. This applies not only to statements made by the employer to the works council, but vice versa.

Dr. Lorenz MittererKatharina Schlonsak
Specialist Lawyer for Employment Law
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