Our In-House Top 5 section in the Labor Law Magazine presents all of the important and practice-oriented topics that are high on the agenda of leading labor lawyers in Germany and abroad. Since 2015, the core statement of this magazine has been: “From lawyers for companies.” In implementing this journalistic claim, it is helpful for all parties involved if external consultants actually know which questions move the client in-house. With the In-House Top 5, we would like to contribute further to improving transparency in the German legal market in the future, on both the demand and supply side, for companies, law firms, auditing firms and service providers. In-House Top 5 supplements the practice-oriented reporting introduced in the Labor Law Magazine five years ago. And because time is a factor (and of course, time is money), we have tried to make our reporting as succinct as possible.
Things you should keep in mind when you deal with German works councils:
- In Germany, works councils are elected employee representatives protected by law. They have to represent the interests of the employees in the company within the scope of their mandate. They do not represent managing directors, managing boards or senior staff members. The employer should develop and maintain a “permanent good relationship” with the works council as the works council is often needed (e.g. for the introduction of software, working time accounts, overtime, recruitment, staff reductions and many strategically important projects).
- Works councils are often well-networked opinion multipliers. If you can convince a works council, projects and topics often get “tail wind” in the workforce as well. Conversely, the resistance of a works council can quickly have a negative impact on the acceptance of topics and projects as well as on costs and time planning among the entire workforce.
- Works councils appreciate commitment and transparency. Take the employee representatives and their arguments seriously, hand over comprehensible, German-language documents to the employee representatives in the initial meeting and proactively explain the most obvious questions. Actively address critical points instead of waiting to see if and when the works council notices them. The law speaks of a “trustworthy cooperation“ in this context. Know what you want, stick to your plans, promise only what you can keep, and avoid 180 degree turns.
- Prepare yourself and your team well, especially for difficult negotiations, and put yourself in the shoes of the works council. Don’t forget that there are diverse individuals behind the works council. Listen carefully, use open questions and find out why certain positions are so important to the employee representatives. On this basis, look for creative solutions to achieve both the aims of the works councils and your objectives.
- Clearly allocate the different negotiating roles within your team and stick to them. Exclude your “final decision maker” (e.g. CEO) from the negotiations at the beginning so that there is still a level of escalation and resolution, if needed. Do not rely solely on individual, benevolent employee representatives in your discussions, but provide factual arguments to convince even critics within the works council. Work in a transparent, fair manner, build and maintain trust and promote clear majorities.