The pitfalls of the hidden protection period

Employees who are candidates in trade union elections are by law protected against dismissal, despite the fact that their employers do not yet know about their being candidates. During this hidden period, union representatives and candidates in union elections can only be dismissed for two very strictly defined reasons: economic-technical reasons and urgent reasons. Even so, an employer who dismisses an employee during this period takes a huge risk.

The exception of economic-technical reasons

Economic-technical reasons can only be invoked when these have previously been recognised by the Joint Committee. In principle, these apply in case of collective redundancies, closure of a company or closure of a department. The exception also applies in case of dismissal of a certain group of employees within the company (e.g. forklift truck drivers) as a whole.

The exception of urgent reasons

Unlike in the case of a non-protected employee, who must leave the company immediately, a protected employee can only be dismissed for urgent reasons after a procedure before the labour court. There, the employer must ask for permission to dismiss the protected employee for urgent reasons and the employee remains employed as long as the labour court has not issued a sentence. 

What if the employer dismisses the employee anyway?

If an employer dismisses a protected employee, disregarding the procedures, or outside the two exceptions, he has to pay protection compensation. This consists of a fixed part, which depends on years of service, and a variable part. The fixed part of the protection compensation can be very high: two years of salary for less than 10 years of service, three years of salary for 10 to 20 years of service, and four years of salary for more than 20 years of service! The variable part of the protection compensation is equal to the salary from the moment of dismissal until the next union elections. 

Golden tip: do not dismiss employees during the hidden protection period!

What is extremely dangerous is the fact that an employee can sign up as a candidate at the start of the election process and, by doing so, already enjoys full protection, without the employer being aware of this! Hence the name ‘hidden protection period’. If the ‘hidden candidate’ is dismissed, they can immediately request their readmission. If the employer refuses at this point, this could cost him 6 to 8 years of salary! Taking into account this extreme risk, it is strongly advised not to dismiss anyone during this hidden period, which starts on date X-30 of the trade union elections calendar. 

With a view to the 2020 trade union elections, this date will fall, at the earliest, on 12 January 2020, in the case of companies holding their elections on 11 May 2020.


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