Labor law

Yes, employment contracts can be terminated extraordinarily via Messenger

Greete Peetersmann,
Gregor Alaküla
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The most important aspect of extraordinary cancellation of an employment contract is that the notice has to be reproducible in writing. The employee should thus be precise in their wording, and the employer should be quick to respond.

Grant Thornton Baltic's legal adviser Merli Kesküla says the main reason that employees give notice is that the employer has treated them in an undignified manner. An example is a situation where the employer is late paying wages. The outstanding sum in such a case does not even have to be the full salary.

Other reasons sufficient for an employee to cancel the contract extraordinarily include danger to their life or health, and an affront to decency or good reputation.

“That’s not the official list – there can also be other reasons, but the key is that the reason has to be a valid one, where in light of the interests of both parties, it would not be reasonable for the employment relationship to continue,” said Kesküla on the programme “Kasvukursil”.

According to the director of the labour dispute committee at the Labour Inspectorate, Grete Peetersmann, the situations that come up before the committee often involved failure to pay wages. “For instance, an employee doesn’t have an understanding of when their payday is since the employer pays in instalments.”

The number of workplace harassment disputes where employees feel they are the target of ill treatment from the employer or co-workers has also increased.

Yet there are mistaken ideas about what workplace harassment is, says Peetersmann. “For instance, an employer demanding a letter of explanation about some situation is sometimes thought to be workplace harassment. An employee receiving a caution after some infringement has also been deemed harassment. Actually, such situations are not workplace harassment.”

Even chat programs can be used to give notice

A declaration of cancellation of an employment relationship must be made in a form reproducible in writing. This can be a source of risk for an employer if a letter of resignation is sent by text message or over a social media channel. Managers must be very attentive and try to discern whether it is an extraordinary cancellation because this means specific steps are required of the employer,” said Kesküla.

For example, if an employee gives notice over Messenger that they will not be coming to work anymore since their salary was paid a day late, the employer must definitely respond as soon as possible and get into direct contact with their employee. If the parties can’t reach agreement, they should get ready to head for a hearing with the labour dispute committee.

Peetersmann says employees more frequently give notice over Messenger. “Since this form of communication can be reproduced in writing, indeed it is also used for extraordinary cancellation of an employment relationship. It is used above all when such a channel is the main way the employer and employee communicate on a daily basis,” says Peetersmann.

Ever increasing employee awareness of their rights has also led to an increase in the number of disputes that come up before the labour dispute committee. The weak economy and high number of layoffs is also driving it upward.

“Last year we got a bit more than 2000 disputes, but this year there have been 300 in just the first two months. The lion’s share involves non-payment of wages, with the employee going through us to get their back pay,” said Peetersmann.

Prevention above all

As a lawyer, Kesküla’s view is that employers often make a mistake by not drawing up well-thought-through employment contracts. If employer-employee relations end up going sideways, the contract can’t be used to back up anything and it is hard to resolve the situation. It also becomes more costly and takes more of a toll on everyone’s nerves.

HR manager of Grant Thornton Baltic Marge Litvinova recommends that in order to prevent extraordinary cancellation of employment contracts, employers should keep documentation and exchange of information in order.

“Make written job offers. Put down in writing the working time, salary and benefits package, expectations of their role and agreements on payment of bonuses,” said Litvinova. All of it should be done concisely and concretely.

Emails buried in the inbox somewhere are not enough. “Misunderstandings start when the employer feels the employee’s performance is inadequate but where the employee hasn’t received the memo on what is actually expected of them,” said Litvinova. She said the employee has to actually know what is expected, what the goals and standards of conduct are. That starts with knowing when they are expected to be present in person in the office and also includes what targets they have to reach by the end of their probationary period and what the expectations for team meetings are. Communication is the key to preventing disputes.

She also noted that there are fewer problems when the company has a values-based culture, the employee has a safe space for feedback and the parties are encouraged to speak openly about problem areas. Nor should cautions be viewed through solely a negative prism. When shortcomings and errors are documented, the situation can be improved. The point of a warning is to continue the employment relationship.

Are you an employer with questions about how to resolve a specific situation? The best course of action is to ask for assistance from either a professional legal advisory service provider or another business.

Photo: Gregor Alaküla

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