J as in Judicial Proceedings in labor court
How do judicial proceedings in at the labor court work?
Submitting a claim
As a first step, I recommend to contact the employer in writing, giving legal reasons for the claim, and asking the employer one last time to fulfill your claim before suing in labor court. Your employer will recognize from the lawyer’s letter that you are serious and that he will have to expect judicial proceedings if no consensual solution is being found.
In termination proceedings, I usually abstain from such a lawyer’s letter due to the clear starting position and the short period for filing a lawsuit in labor court.
If the employer does not react as desired, I will file a lawsuit before the labor court. Jurisdiction lies with the court that is situated where the employer has his or her registered office. However, a lawsuit can also be filed at the place where you usually perform your work.
In the statement of claim I present to the court the facts of your claim. I also explain the grounds for your claim in accordance with the law. As annexes, I enclose documents which show that you are in the right.
In the statement of claim, the parties to the dispute – you as the employee and your employer – will be referred to as the plaintiff and the defendant. These designations will be retained throughout the judicial proceedings.
Within a few weeks after the lawsuit has been filed, the so-called conciliation hearing will take place. The sole purpose of this hearing is to clarify whether the legal dispute can be brought to a consensual conclusion by means of a settlement.
You and your employer are free to attend this meeting in person or to be substituted by a lawyer. However, it may be advisable for you to attend the meeting in person in order to clarify the facts and reach a settlement.
The conciliation hearing is conducted by a presiding judge. He or she is a professional judge and wears a black robe. He or she will ask whether the facts of the case are clear, give a brief legal assessment of the case and possibly make a settlement proposal of his or her own.
During the conciliation hearing, there is always the possibility of interrupting the hearing if you wish to discuss the matter with me. Interruptions are commonly used for settlement negotiations without the participation of the judge.
The conciliation hearing takes place in public, so interested parties can listen to the hearing. Unlike the judge, attorneys at the Berlin Labor Court do not wear robes.
Settlement in labor court
If the parties reach a settlement, the judicial proceedings end. There will be no more hearings. Both parties must fulfill their obligations under the settlement. If they fail to do so, the settlement can be enforced, for example by appointing a bailiff.
A settlement can be reached at any stage of the court proceedings and at any instance. The judges are in fact required to work towards a consensual resolution of the legal dispute at all times.
A settlement also has an impact on attorney fees and court costs. The attorney’s fees add up with the settlement fee; in return, the court costs are completely waived in the vast majority of cases.
If no agreement is reached, the court sets a date for the so-called chamber hearing. The employer is first asked to explain in a written statement why he or she thinks the claim asserted in the lawsuit is unfounded. The employer must submit documents or name witnesses to support his or her view.
We will then be given another opportunity to respond to the employer’s written defense and to explain in writing and prove why you are in the right and the employer’s factual allegations and legal opinions are incorrect.
Several months may pass between the conciliation hearing and the chamber hearing. Unlike during the conciliation hearing, the entire chamber takes part in this court hearing. This means that in addition to the presiding judge being a professional judge, two lay judges also will take part. One of the lay judges is appointed by the employers’ associations, the other by the trade unions. These judges work in other professions and come to the labor court only for the chamber hearing and pass judgment together with the professional judge on an equal footing. They do not wear judges’ robes.
In the chamber hearing, the judges again indicate how they assess the legal issues. The parties are given another opportunity to exchange their arguments, and if the parties have named witnesses whose testimony in the opinion of the court is important for the decision of the dispute, they are heard during the chamber hearing.
During the chamber hearing, the court will also look for ways to end the legal dispute amicably by means of a settlement. If this does not succeed, the court retires for deliberation and then announces its decision.
The chamber hearing ends with a decision by the court. In very few cases, this decision leads to a continuation of the legal dispute because the court considers the facts of the case not yet to be conclusively settled.
Nonetheless in most cases, the court announces with its judgment whether it grants the claim (in which case the plaintiff has won) or dismisses the claim (in which case the defendant has won). The court may also grant a claim partly and dismiss the claim in the other respects. The court also announces who has to bear the costs of the judicial proceeding.
When the judgment is pronounced, the parties only learn who has won or lost and to what extent. The written reasons for the judgment are given within the next few months. On the basis of these reasons, the losing party can examine whether it will accept the reasons or whether it does not want to accept the decision and wants to go to the second judicial instance by filing an appeal. The losing party has one month time from the date of deliverance of the reasons for the judgment to file an appeal.
If no appeal is being filed, the decision becomes final. The losing party must fulfill the claims to which it has been sentenced.
Costs of labor court proceedings
Unlike in civil proceedings, in labor law proceedings during the first instance each party bears its own costs. This means that you will not be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees by your employer even if you win in court. In return, however, you do not have to pay the fees of your employer’s lawyer either.
The lawyer’s fees are determined by the German Law on Lawyers’ Fees (Rechtsanwaltsvergütungsgesetz – RVG) and are based on the amount in dispute, i.e. the value of the matter in dispute. Thus, if you sue for 1,000 Euros of salary from your employer, the amount in dispute is 1,000 Euros. However, the amount in dispute only serves to determine the fees; the fees themselves are always lower than the amount in dispute.
The lawyer’s fees consist of
- procedural fee, which arises when the action is being filed,
- hearing fee, which is incurred for court hearings,
- settlement fee if a settlement is being reached,
- telecommunication fee of a maximum of 20.00 Euros, and
- the value added tax.
These fees are minimum fees set by law, as a lawyer I may only undercut these fees in exceptional cases. I am happy to conclude fee agreements for my out-of-court work prior to filing a lawsuit.
Please note: This is a very general overview on the subject of labor court proceedings under german labor law. If you need help in your particular case, please do not hestitate to contact me or book your appointment. I’m happy to help.